The Davis City Council bought time Tuesday night to wait until the last minute to place taxes on the June ballot that could shore up city finances temporarily.
What the members bought with that time are options to place a companion measure on the ballot that specifies — in a non-legally binding way — what the money will be used for, a chance to mull how to do outreach to the community and a shorter lifespan for the taxes. The council also wants to emphasize to voters the city’s determination to build a business park that could bring in the necessary tax income for the long term.
The council is considering placing a three-quarter-cent addition to the sales tax on the June ballot and a $150-per-year parcel tax on the November ballot. The estimated $5.4 million in annual sales taxes receipts will go toward covering a $5.1 million structural deficit brought on by wages and benefit costs as well as various other soaring costs like a $2 million debt service for infrastructure. The rest would be placed in a rainy-day fund. This tax will require a simple majority of voters to pass it.
The city says the parcel tax would bring in $4.1 million annually for roads, park capital improvements and benefits like pool funding and the purchase of Nugget Fields from the school district. It would require a two-thirds yes vote to pass.
Each council member had something to add to the options city staff will be bringing back on Feb. 11, the last chance the council would have to meet deadlines for the June 3 ballot.
Councilwoman Rochelle Swanson pushed for more aggressive language telling voters the city would pursue economic development, but not just in a technology park. A change in the downtown core may have to take place for more income-generating business to locate in Davis, she said.
“It’ going to take more than boutiques and restaurants,” Swanson said, adding that the language of the economic development pledge would be a crucial message to voters. “I do think that our community wants to get behind us, but I do think they need something more.”
Councilman Lucas Frerichs worried that other alternatives hadn’t been pursued, such as hotel occupancy taxes, and the absence of that pursuit could be a hole in the city’s argument for new taxes. Similarly, he worried that Measure J/R votes required for most land on which the technology park would be built could make the economic development pledge risky.
More so, he worried that increases in water and sewer rates taking effect now will make Davis residents tighten their pocketbooks when it comes to approving new taxes.
Some members of the public criticized the city’s policy of slow growth for killing the housing development industry in Davis and thus a source of income for the city.
Councilman Brett Lee fired back at that notion, saying city analyses had shown housing to be revenue-neutral, in other words, not a good source of income.
Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kemble Pope read the results of a survey of Chamber members on the tax issue that showed 60 percent of respondents said yes to a question about whether the city should keep cutting rather than levying more taxes.
“This I don’t think is going to fly with the community,” he said.
Lee launched a broadside at that sentiment, saying the survey was too vague in its wording and asked the wrong questions. It should have asked whether people want their roads paved and want to have access to parks and recreation programs, he said, adding that roads and pools have deteriorated over the past 20 years.
“Perhaps the medicine is that we do something that is unpopular at first glance,” Lee said. “(We need to ask) what is it about Davis that makes it Davis?”
Mayor Pro Tem Dan Wolk seemed to call out past councils, saying this council would not “kick the can down the road.”
The city could cut the $5.1 million, but he said he didn’t have a sense that was what the community wants to do, plus there are real long-term projects that need financing. Wolk even proposed adding to an existing parks parcel tax so it could go on the June ballot with the sales tax. That way, voters could decide in one fell swoop.
City Manager Steve Pinkerton said he would add that to the list of options for council consideration in February.
Mayor Joe Krovoza took the various comments and unified them for the city staff to understand, noting there was support on the council to move forward with tax measures, but it needs more options on the table for debate at the Feb. 11. meeting. That also would give the public more chance to weigh in, he noted. Krovoza also said he is interested in seeing the sales tax be on the books for less than 10 years.
At least four members of the council must agree to move the tax issue to the ballot.
— Reach Dave Ryan at 530-747-8057. Follow him at Twitter at @davewritesnews