Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2008 • City Council decides to place general tax measure on June ballot

The Susanville City Council needs more revenue and it decided a one-half cent sales tax increase is the best way to go.

The general tax measure will be on the June ballot and all it needs is 50 percent plus one votes to pass. If passed the increase in sales tax will add nearly $900,000 to the general fund.

However, the council wants to know how the citizens want the additional revenue to be spent, and it wants to be able to tell the public what things actually cost.

Currently, the city charges 7.25 percent in sales tax. Of that amount 6.25 percent goes to the state and .75 percent goes to county transportation funds. The city splits the other .25 percent with county. If the one-half cent tax measure passes, the city keeps all the extra revenue.

About 300 residents returned a Funding Needs Survey sent in the December utility bills. Overwhelming those who filled out the survey said street maintenance and repair was the number one issue facing the city.

Second was having enough police and fire personnel hired and public safety equipment be updated.

At its Wednesday, Feb. 5 meeting, the council will look at several staff proposals on how to prioritize the new revenue if the tax measure passes, without spelling out exactly how the money will be spent.

According to City Attorney Peter Talia, if the council wants to use specific language on how the tax will be used then it would take a two-thirds vote to pass the measure.

All the councilmembers agreed that the two-thirds of the city residents would not pass the tax measure and they have a better chance explaining to the public the need for the additional $900,000 in revenue added the general fund and passing a 50 percent plus no measure.

City Administrator Rob Hill suggested the council add advisory measures to the ballot.

In a report to the council, Hill said, “These measures would guide future allocation of funds from a successful tax measure. The advisory measures can be narrowly focused on specific needs (hire police personnel, hire fire personnel) or broadened into general categories (enhance police and fire services). Either way, the advisory measure needs to be sufficiently focused to ensure the voters that the additional funds will be dedicated to the programs they prioritized.”

Hill said when talking to officials from other California cities the advisory measures were primarily designed to gauge general support for specific programs and the City Council then allocates annually among those programs based on need. The advisory measures also provide a level of assurance to the voters that any new tax revenues will only be spent on the programs they prioritized.

Councilmember Vern Templeton said he would like to see four advisory measures placed on the ballot. The advisory measures would address street maintenance and repair; the hiring of additional emergency services personnel and upgrading public safety equipment; promote commercial development and economic growth and construct and operate a swimming pool with other community partners.

Hill said the advisory measures is more a political move than anything else because it says the council will take what the public wants seriously and do what it can in the priority areas with the additional revenue.

Hill said the public needs to have input because it is “like pouring a bucket of water into a pool. The public can’t figure out what part of the water came from the bucket and wants to know why the pool water level doesn’t look higher.”

Mayor Lino Callegari said the public needs to know it can trust the council or recall the members.

“Give us the money through the initiative to do the work that comes to us rather than specify but don’t limit us,” said Callegari. “We need to identify the need and the public will buy into it.”

Callegari added the street maintenance and repair is a huge issue for the city as well as the need to replace the water lines that run under most city streets. He said not only do roads need to be repaired, but they also will be torn up to fix leaking water pipes. Therefore, street repair and water pipe replacement need to be done at the same time.

Hill said the staff would come back with ideas to present to the council on Feb. 5. The council said it encourages the public to attend the 7 p.m. meeting and help guide the council on which advisory measures to add to the ballot.