Davis voters have an opportunity to say yes to a relatively painless tax and stave off deep cuts to our city’s workforce. Through gritted teeth, we recommend a yes vote on Measure O, which asks voters to extend an existing half-percent sales tax increase and impose a new half-percent tax, through Dec. 31, 2020.
IF THE MEASURE is approved, our existing sales tax rate will rise from 8 to 8.5 percent, generating an estimated $3.7 million annually to help fund necessary services. While city literature says the tax will go to parks, landscaping and street maintenance, it’s actually destined for the general fund, which is suffering from a $4.99 million deficit.
The general fund has been wracked by the cost of unsustainable pension and health benefits for retirees. Street maintenance is due to be addressed in a parcel tax proposed for the November ballot.
Have our city leaders been good stewards of our money? Past councils gave away the store to employees, offering rich pension and health benefits that could lead our city to bankruptcy if we don’t start moving much faster down a path to economic sustainability.
This current council has done a relatively good job of getting employees to bear a greater share of these spiraling benefit costs, but there’s much more to be done to right the ship.
Add to that the ill-advised expenditure of $400,000 — with up to $600,000 more authorized — on a public power study, and we wonder whether our city leaders have their priorities in order. Why now for that study?
ALL THAT SAID, we see no good to come of carving 12 percent out of all city departments — including police and fire — or 25 percent out of non-public-safety departments if those two areas are protected. This is on top of a major reduction in the municipal workforce — 22 percent — during the past several lean-budget years.
And of all the choices for raising revenue, a sales tax puts the least amount of pain on our residents’ pocketbooks. Visitors to town — and there are more and more each year — will help us bear this expense. And after all, a half-percent hike amounts to only $5 on a $1,000 purchase.
WE CAN AFFORD this, Davis. It will buy our city leaders some time to continue getting our fiscal house in order. And that is absolutely necessary.