Whether Davis voters support or oppose an increase in the local sales tax may come down to their perception of how well the city has been managing its money.
According to the ballot argument for Measure O — which would increase in the sales tax rate from 8 percent to 8.5 percent and extend another existing sales tax from its 2016 sunset to 2020 — the measure would provide $3.6 million annually to pay for what’s billed as essential community needs.
They are listed in the ballot argument as “road, sidewalk, bike path, street light repairs” and money for parks, landscaping and street tree maintenance.
The current $4.99 million estimated structural deficit in the city’s budget comes despite slightly increased revenues, according to City Manager Steve Pinkerton. Yet health care and other employee benefit costs are up, among others, as well as the price the city pays for water during a dry year.
Without the revenues from an additional half-percent added to the sales tax, the city is looking at an across-the-board 12-percent cut to all departments, including fire and police. Another option is to protect public safety from cuts and dig 25-percent cuts out of city departments. This is on top of what the city says is 22 percent in reductions already made to city staff during previous lean-budget years.
Opponents of the measure contend in their argument that the city “failed to explain why the taxpayers should pay for their mismanagement of $5.1 million of taxpayer money.”
That figure was the former estimate for the city’s structural deficit, and was accurate at the time the ballot arguments were submitted.
Pinkerton recommended a 0.75 percent sales tax increase to the City Council, saying that without the extra revenues in the short term, the city would in effect function not like a city, but an unincorporated region of the county.
The ballot argument for the measure was signed by all members of the current City Council. The opposition argument was signed by Davis residents Ernie Head, Janet Zwahlen, John Smith, Thomas Randall Jr. and Jose Granda.
Some of the opponents were involved in legal action against the measure. Granda and Randall filed a lawsuit claiming the city incorrectly used the word “cent” in place of “percent” in describing the amount of sales tax the measure would extract. The lawsuit was thrown out of court last month for suing the wrong parties.
Granda is seeking a seat on the Davis school board.
Opponents also decry Pinkerton’s salary, saying $188,000 per year is too much for the city’s CEO.
“He left Davis for another city that pays him $13,000 less and now the council has postponed setting up the salary of the new (city manager) pending the result of this election,” they write.
The reality is Pinkerton is leaving Davis this week for the Incline Village General Improvement District, not another city. The district handles recreation, sewer and waste for the northeast shore of Lake Tahoe, in Nevada.
City Council members have said in public meetings they are leaving the decision of hiring and paying for a city manager to the new council, which will be seated after the June 3 election. It is possible that up to two seats could change on the council, and one seat surely will be vacated in favor of a new member because incumbent Mayor Joe Krovoza is not seeking re-election.
The current council’s reasoning is that it doesn’t want to make a decision that so clearly affects the next council now.
Tax opponents also blame the city for creating “additional economic hardship” when it set the water rates now newly in effect. They say water rates could triple over the next several years.
Whether Davisites can afford the new rates is an open question, but the water project was approved by a majority of Davis voters in March 2013 and the city followed a legal Proposition 218 process that has been supported by the Yolo Superior Court.
— Reach Dave Ryan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @davewritesnews