San Luis Obispo is expected to seek renewal of an added half-cent sales tax to boost city coffers, but a citizen panel will help shape what that tax measure will look like.
The San Luis Obispo City Council has committed to seeking a renewal of Measure Y or a similar sales-tax increase in November 2014. Measure Y, approved by voters in 2006, is set to expire next year.
A nine-member advisory committee, selected by the City Council, will be asked to gather community input on such a measure. Committee members will also be responsible for public outreach.
San Luis Obispo residents can apply to be on the committee through Aug. 16. The council will make the appointments on Sept. 3.
In April 2014, the committee will submit a report to the City Council with its recommendations.
Options include a general-purpose tax measure similar to Measure Y or a special-purpose tax that would have specific designations for what those funds can be spent on. However, the latter requires two-thirds voter approval.
In the current budget, Measure Y is expected to bring in $6.5 million annually.
The city was criticized for its use of those funds at the measure’s onset because of promises made during the campaign that were not met, including hiring more police officers to patrol neighborhoods.
A conflux of factors including a binding arbitration settlement with police officers that left the city scrambling to find millions of dollars it had not budgeted and a downturn in the economy led to some of the increased revenue being used to backfill the city’s general fund.
City Manager Katie Lichtig said no direct expenditures were linked to binding arbitration from Measure Y funds but that the settlement resulted in depleted general fund resources that would have paid for things that Measure Y instead funded.
The City Council also recently gave the green light for the city to spend $30,000 for a public opinion survey on residents’ satisfaction with the existing sales tax measure.
Councilman Dan Carpenter has concerns about spending the money, calling it a charade.
“I’m in support of the committee, but I do not support spending that money,” Carpenter said. “In my mind it will be spent on marketing the measure to get it renewed. Why go through the motions if putting it on the ballot is already a done deal?”
The city will also spend $10,000 to hire a private facilitator to run a handful of public meetings focused on options for a sales tax measure.
City staff had originally proposed running those meetings, but Councilwoman Kathy Smith said she preferred to have an independent consultant.
“I feel they (staff) have a natural bias as to how they would like those meetings to go,” Smith said. “Basically, that is a conflict of interest.”