A ½ cent tax initiative is one-step closer to being placed on the November ballot with the Visalia City Council voting unanimously for staff to move forward with community outreach on the issue.
Visalia has seen a steady decline in sales tax income during the past 35 years with a decline in residents shopping local. In fact, in 1980, 53% of personal income was spent on taxable sales compared with today, in which 33% is spent, said Eric Frost, administrative staff member.
City council has been looking into the possibility of the ballot measure for close to one year – the belief currently is that a measure would pass by a 62-68% margin, Frost said.
In May of 2015, the council directed staff members to meet with two citizen committees to examine the city’s financial situation and make recommendations on how the council should proceed if it chooses to put a revenue measure on the ballot.
The Citizen Advisory Committee and an ad hoc committee, the Ballot Measure Advisory Committee, met from August, 2015, to January of this year, and presented their recommendations to city council, each recommending the ½ cent sales tax measure with strong accountability measures.
City council had asked staff to make recommendations on how to move forward with this. The city hopes that through explanation of the potential tax and the undertaking of a survey to confirm voter support, it can determine whether to proceed by placing of the measure by the July deadline for the November ballot.
Funds from the proposed tax would be used for police, fire, streets and parks maintenance. It would increase the number of police officers on the streets and increase gang-prevention programs, as well as maintain fire response time. Increased funds would also aide in maintenance and cleanliness of parks.
The ½ cent tax would potentially add $10.8 million in funds annually. It is estimated that 40% of that would be spent by visitors to the city, according to staff reports.
It was made clear by Frost that accountability of funds was a vital part of the proposal.
“It’s important that we protect our investments,” said Councilman Greg Collins. “It is good stewardship that we have the funds to maintain them.”
Councilman Bob Link reviewed the facts that Measure T funds have provided two new fire stations, two more police stations and added more police force on the streets, and added that it is important to maintain the improvements.
“I am very comfortable about going forward with this,” he said.
Vice Mayor Warren Gubler said he felt that if the sales tax initiative is passed, that it be revisited in the future, perhaps in six years.
“I am fine with allowing the public in on it,” he added.
Mayor Steve Nelsen said, “sales tax has flat-lined in the past couple of years.”
He agreed that the city needs the boost.
“A sales tax measure would be spread out among everyone,” he said.
Visalia city staff will now move forward with developing informational materials to share with the public and getting proposals from independent contractors for community outreach and a survey to confirm voter support.