After ten months of research and discussion, the Visalia City Council gave a green light to putting a sales tax measure on the November ballot. The vote was five-0 during their work session February 1st. But not all council members were in favor of raising taxes. Council member Warren Gubler said that he is never in favor of raising taxes but was not opposed to letting the voters decide. If the November ballot measure is approved, sales tax in Visalia would go up by a half cent and is projected to raise approximately ten million dollars a year. The measure only needs a 50% plus one votes to pass.
BMAC Gives Their Support
After meeting twice a month for five months, the Bond Measure Advisory Committee (BMAC) recommended that the City put the sales tax measure on the ballot. Many of the BMAC members were participants in the 2013 Blue Ribbon Committee. At that time the Blue Ribbon Committee recommended against putting a similar measure on the ballot. But because of the city’s growing needs and the positive survey results, the BMAC felt it was the right time.
Their biggest reason for recommending the ballot measure was that Visalia’s sales tax revenues have been less than projected. The weak sales tax returns are due to the fact that shoppers are increasingly buying more on-line than at brick and mortar stores. When buyers forgo Visalia shops, and buy their good on-line, Visalia losses revenue.
The BMAC also pointed out that the recession forced significant personnel reductions, the city needs to continue to build cash reserves, and that the city needs to rebuild pension reserves. They also pointed out that Visalia will not be able to keep up with the public safety needs in the future unless another source of revenue is found.
The BMAC report stated, “Having performed our ‘due diligence’ in reviewing Visalia’s financial challenges between August 2015 and January 2016, the BMAC recommends the following to the City Council in order to maintain our city’s ‘quality of life.”’ We propose a 0.5% local sales tax for the 2016 ballot (equivalent to 50 cents per $100 in taxable purchases). We propose this be a general tax requiring a 50% public approval.”
The BMAC based much of their final decision on a survey conducted by a public opinion research firm, FM3. Their representative, Richard Bernard, has conducted several surveys for Visalia in the past years. During his presentation to the city council, Bernard said that the city never fails to impress. “You really are the Jewel of the Valley.” Bernard has surveyed many cities in California and said that Visalia ranks high as one of the best run. He also complimented the BCAC for a job well done and said that they served their city well.
The survey Interviewed 500 City of Visalia registered voters who were likely to vote in the November 2016 General Election. The survey found that “slightly more than two-thirds think the city has a great or some need for additional funds.” FM3’s report also added that, “there appears to be support for the ½-cent sales tax measure above the 50% +1 vote threshold.” The report said that after the respondents were educated on the issues facing Visalia, the percent of voters went up six points in favor of the half cent tax hike.
Based on the survey results, Bernard reported that his company recommended that the City Council move forward with the ballot measure.
The next step is for city staff to develop the language that will appear on the ballot measure. The city council will be reviewing a first draft of the measure at its next meeting Tuesday, February 16th.