Tuesday, May 24, 2005 • City postpones ballot measure

Publisher’s note: This story originally appeared in the Tuesday, May 24, 2005, edition of the Lassen County Times.

A roomful of Susanville residents attended the City Council meeting Wednesday, May 18 ready to provide input on the proposed ballot measures to raise revenue.

However, at the beginning of the meeting City Administrator Luann Rainey pulled the item from the agenda because staff recently learned a general tax measure must coincide with the election of councilmembers in June 2006.

A special measure can be placed on the November election ballot, however, Rainey said the staff was not recommending that. Special tax measures require a two-thirds voter approval.

Staff is recommending a sales and use tax increase of .50 percent that would generate about $800,000 a year.

The council directed the staff to also look at a Public Safety Parcel Tax. In the tabled agenda item, Rainey reported in writing the city attorney, Kathleen Lazard, determined that a Public Safety Parcel Tax requires two-thirds voter approval for passage.

The tax would have to be a set amount per parcel rather than a percentage value of a parcel. Parcel taxes must be reviewed with Proposition 13 in mind, which prohibits more than 1 percent taxation rate on real property, said Rainey.

Local businessman Jim McCarthy said during the public comment portion of the meeting that the council may want to consider having some town hall meetings.

He said he now realizes the city has a revenue problem and he and other citizens have been talking about the situation. He said perhaps residents have ideas that could help the city.

Rainey said after the meeting she thought town hall forums would be helpful.

The pulled item gave five reasons the staff said it thinks the sales tax option would be most effective.

First, it has a greater probability to pass based on the success of other cities.

Second, it only needs a majority of voter approval.

Third, it will have a lesser impact in the community because the tax would be paid by anyone shopping in Susanville, not just the city’s residents. As a very conservative estimate of cost, staff said, if all sales taxes were to be paid by the city’s residents (excluding county residents and visitors) it would be about $7 a month per person.

Fourth, because the tax is a percentage of sales dollars, the tax will have some level of growth in future years as total sales dollars increase over time that will help fight the inflation.

Fifth, the staff said it discourages the council offering more than one ballot measure that would split the voters and the spilt votes may not reach the necessary majority.

Rainey also told the council even though the city needs the revenue now the discussion on the ballot measure needs to be replaced on the agenda at a time closer to the June 2006 general election.

Without the new funding sources, the council will be forced to drastically reduce services to the public that are paid for from the general fund, said Rainey.

General fund services are: police, fire, parks and recreation, public works (other than enterprise funds), streets maintenance and repair, snow removal, planning and building, code enforcement, city clerk and all administrative functions.

The general fund also contributes significantly to Susanville Municipal Airport operations.

The city’s Enterprise Funds include geothermal, natural gas, water and the airport. These funds should be self-sufficient and not use any general fund money to subsidize them. However, in the past the city has had to use the general fund to keep them going.