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Escondido voters support sales tax hike, study says

A solid majority of Escondido voters would support a local sales tax measure if placed on the November ballot to help pay for city services, according to a poll commissioned by the city.

Support for the measure ranged from 62 percent if the tax was structured to end when voters decide to stop it, to 68 percent if the tax was imposed with a 20-year clause, according to a report by True North Research, Inc. which surveyed more than 1,000 registered Escondido voters in May.

The results were presented to the Escondido City Council at its meeting Wednesday.

“The results of this study suggest that if structured appropriately, focused on projects and services that voters identify as their priorities, and combined with effective public communication/education and a solid independent campaign, the proposed sales tax measure has a good chance of passing if placed on the November 2022 ballot,” the report said.

Escondido voters’ top priorities for spending money were public safety, public works and dealing with homelessness, the report said.

After a discussion, the council directed staff to come back with draft language for a sales tax measure for the council to consider. The measure would require at least four council votes to be placed on the ballot, but only a simple majority of electoral votes to pass if structured as a general tax measure.

Ballot measures must be submitted to the county Registrar of Voters by August 12 to be placed on the November ballot.

Still to be determined is the amount of the proposed tax, such as one cent or a smaller amount, the specific language of the ballot question and how long the tax would last.

The city is considering a sales tax increase because it faces deficits in its annual budget that stretch over the next two decades. During budget deliberations for the current fiscal year, which began July 1, the council had to close an $8.5 million shortfall.

A major driver of the city’s financial woes is an unfunded pension liability of nearly $300 million. The city must make payments for the removal of this debt to the state pension system. Annual payments range from $10 million to $22 million over the next two decades, and payments will end in 2044, according to a city staff report.

The city’s pension liabilities became one of the main points of contention during the council’s discussion Wednesday.

Councilman Joe Garcia said the city’s pension debt should have come up more clearly in the survey questions, and he said any ballot measure should also address the issue prominently, since it’s a major cause of the city’s projected budget shortfall. .

Staff presentations on the proposed sales tax increase have outlined potential uses of the funds, but did not specifically mention the unfunded pension liability, Garcia said.

“I think we need to be completely honest and transparent with the community and say we need to pay for this and we need your help to do that,” Garcia said.

But Mayor Paul McNamara disputed the idea that the pension liability was hidden, noting that it had featured prominently in a number of staff conferences for the council.

“We know that bill is not going away,” McNamara said. “This should have been addressed in the last 20 years, (but) it wasn’t. So I’m struggling to get your point.”

“Since it was not addressed in the last 20 years, now in 2022 we have to address it,” Garcia said.

“Isn’t that what we’re doing?” McNamara asked.

Later in the discussion, McNamara said, “In the spirit of transparency, we also have to say that if they don’t vote for (the ballot measure) the quality of life in Escondido will decline. Which he will do. We will not have the money we need to provide the quality of life at the current level.”

Drafting the exact language of the ballot measure could be challenging, since the maximum word limit is 75, City Manager Sean McGlynn told the council. But he said there will be other ways to inform the public, such as an educational website, if the council puts the item on the ballot.

Currently, Escondido’s sales tax is set at 7.75 percent, the state’s base rate plus a regional half-cent increase approved by voters to pay for transportation projects. According to a city staff report, eight cities in the county, including Vista and Oceanside, have passed local sales tax increases.

Because state law allows total local sales tax increases of up to 2 cents, if another regional tax were passed in San Diego County, it could limit Escondido’s ability to pass the sales tax increase. Council member Mike Morasco said the situation is like a “ticking time bomb out there.”

A one-cent sales tax increase would generate $28 million a year in new revenue, the report said.

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Escondido voters support sales tax hike, study says Source link Escondido voters support sales tax hike, study says

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