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Sales tax hike headed for November ballot in Escondido

Escondido voters will decide this fall whether to raise the city’s sales tax by three-quarters of a cent to pay for city services such as public safety, public works and homelessness mitigation.

The City Council is also considering placing two additional measures on the ballot — one to set term limits for Escondido’s elected officials and a pay cut for the elected city treasurer position.

At its meeting Wednesday, the City Council voted 4-1 to place the sales tax item on the November ballot, with Councilman Joe Garcia opposed. The measure required four votes for approval. Mayor Paul McNamara and council members Tina Inscoe, Mike Morasco and Consuelo Martinez supported the measure.

According to draft ballot language approved by the council, the proposed tax increase would be in effect for 15 years and generate about $21 million annually. The city’s operating budget for the current fiscal year is $125.7 million.

The measure requires a simple majority for passage. While the city is not legally restricted from using additional sales tax money as city leaders see fit, the draft ballot identifies a number of priorities identified during recent voter surveys and community outreach sessions, such such as police and fire protection, parks and infrastructure maintenance. and addressing homelessness.

The council also added “pension liability reduction” to the 75-word description of the ballot measure at the behest of Garcia and other members, who said the city should be wary that future pension costs are taking a big toll. from the annual city budget. despite efforts to cut pension costs.

According to city staff reports, Escondido faces huge unfunded pension liabilities that require payments of up to $22 million a year between now and 2044, when payments are expected to end.

In July, the council received the results of a poll showing that between 62 percent and 68 percent of Escondido voters would support a sales tax increase, depending on how it was structured. A city staff report noted that although many California cities face unfunded pension costs, of the 201 sales tax measures put before voters over the past four years, only one included language regarding pension liabilities .

The staff report said the city’s advisory team “strongly advises” against including pension language in the ballot measure description and that if the language were added, “the statistical reliability of the poll results would no longer be applicable” and the measure could fail.

A resolution passed by the council along with the ballot measure said the new sales tax revenue would be budgeted and tracked separately from the general fund budget, create a citizen oversight committee on the use of the funds and an audit independent of funds. would be performed annually.

Currently, Escondido’s sales tax rate is 7.75 percent, of which 6 percent goes to the state, .25 percent goes to San Diego County, 1 percent stays in Escondido and .5 percent goes to a transportation fund regional approved by voters.

If the measure passes, the city rate would increase to 8.5 percent and 1.75 percent would be retained by the city for local use. The staff report noted that four cities in San Diego County — National City, Del Mar, Chula Vista and Imperial Beach — have passed one-cent local sales tax increases. Vista and Oceanside have passed half-cent local sales tax increases.

Despite the steps the city has taken to provide transparency about the use of sales tax money, Garcia said he could not support putting the question before voters. “At this time, I don’t think there’s enough protection for the taxpayers here in Escondido to move forward with this,” he said.

But Morasco, who voted against a similar measure in 2020, falling short of the four necessary council votes to put it on the ballot, said city officials have satisfied his concerns by conducting extensive outreach to residents and groups, as well as reducing costs as much as possible.

“I feel like there’s been Herculean effort in those areas,” he said.

Martinez said she supported the voter request to approve a one-cent sales tax increase, but was willing to compromise to reach the four-vote threshold for passage.

“I see so much need and potential and I want us to thrive,” she said.

“For those who don’t support it, where is your plan, what are you going to do to fix this,” she said. “I don’t listen to your solutions. This is a solution and I would like voters to vote.”

Inscoe said she preferred a 15- to 20-year sunset bid and would support a three-quarter-cent tax being placed on the ballot to support services desired by residents.

“These are difficult times to make such decisions. It’s not easy for many people out there. But it’s not easy for the city to continue to provide the services it needs to provide to citizens,” Inscoe said.

McNamara said he supported putting a one-cent increase before voters. He said the unfunded pension liability first arose in the early 2000s and past councils failed to address the shortfall.

“The point is that we have little money. That bill isn’t going away. We have to do it. If we don’t raise revenue, we have to start cutting things, quality of life things that we all care about in Escondido,” McNamara said.

About two dozen people addressed the council either in writing or in person, with the majority supporting a ballot measure for the proposed sales tax increase.

Among them was Greg Anglea, CEO of Interfaith Community Services, which partners with the city on several programs to address homelessness. Anglea asked the council to place a one-cent tax on voters.

“If the resources can’t be provided to provide shelter, housing and services to help people overcome homelessness, it will become an even bigger disaster than it is today,” Anglea said.

Tom Albergo, a retired Escondido police lieutenant, wrote that he was shocked to learn that police staffing is the same today as it was in the 1990s.

“We want public safety to be at the right levels, not 30 years behind. We want our city to be in good financial shape, even if it costs us another penny on the dollar. So please don’t be the one to deny the Escondido voter the opportunity to have a say in our city,” he wrote.

In addition to the sales tax measure, the council considered two other possible measures at Wednesday’s meeting. One measure would set term limits for elected officials, with two terms for the mayor and three terms for council seats and the city treasurer’s office.

A second measure would ask voters whether to reduce the city treasurer’s annual salary from the current $106,000 to the same salary earned by council members of $25,000 a year. A city staff report said four San Diego County cities have an elected treasurer and the average annual salary among those four cities is $13,742.

The term limit and treasury items will return to the council on Aug. 10 for a final decision on whether to put them on the November ballot.

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Sales tax hike headed for November ballot in Escondido Source link Sales tax hike headed for November ballot in Escondido

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