Visalia’s new sales tax could begin being assessed as soon as April, according to Renee Nagel, the City of Visalia’s Financial Director.
“We will get an additional fiscal quarter of funds if we get the state paperwork done by February 1st,” Nagel said.
At the Visalia City Council’s December 5 meeting, council members voted to start the process of implementing Visalia’s new sales tax, approved by the voters by 65% to 35% in the November election.
Councilmember Greg Collins pointed out that the measure almost passed by a two-thirds margin, “and that speaks highly of the citizens of this community and those people who want to invest in the community that we know and love.”
While Measure N is a General Revenue Measure, it is referred to as a ‘Public Safety Tax’ because the increased revenue would be ear-marked for public safety services, such as police, fire, and maintaining roads. A small percentage would also go to youth services and parks. The spending plan can change through the years, but only after a lengthy and public process.
The sales tax would have to be reviewed by the council every eight years to decide if it should continue. To suspend the sales tax, the city council would need a four-fifths vote. Voters could also suspend the sales tax through a referendum.
The spending plan was based on a projected yearly income of $10,740,000.
Councilmember Amy Shuklian asked what would happen if the sales tax didn’t generate the amount anticipated and the city had already ear-marked the money. Nagel said that the city made its projections based on the Measure T sales tax that passed 10 years ago which has a similar structure. Taking in the history of Measure T funds, it is projected that Measure N would generate $11.8 million. City staff also took into consideration the possibility of another recession when proposing the spending plan.
The final steps in implementing the sales tax increase entail completing State Board of Equalization agreements by February 1, 2017, finalizing the spending plan, and appointing an oversight board. Mike Olmos, Visalia City Manager, is in charge of preparing the final spending plan which will be approved by the city council. The Measure N Oversight Board will then review the plan to ensure it matches what the citizens of Visalia voted.
All meetings are open to the public, and the spending plan will be available on the City of Visalia’s website. The effectiveness of the spending plan will be reviewed every two years by the oversight committee while two public hearing will be held.
The oversight board will consist of 11 members. Five will be appointed by the city council, two will be appointed by the Citizens Advisory Committee, and four will come from established community service groups.
Councilmember Warren Gubler inquired as to what will happen if the city doesn’t spend all the money.
“I would hope that just because the money is there, doesn’t mean we have to spend it,” Nagel responded.
She said that the money would just be rolled over to the next fiscal year and become part of the review that happens every two years.
Mayor Steve Nelsen expressed concern about waiting until the funds started coming in. His hope was to build credibility with the voting public by showing that its tax dollars were being spent as promised. Olmos said that they could front the money for hiring new police officers now and kick-start some projects. He added that they could get projects shovel-ready so they can start the minute the funds come in.
Olmos said city staff intends on putting up signs with the slogan “Paid for with Measure N money” so the public can see results of its tax dollars.