Story on ballot arguments originally published Aug. 20 and updated with rebuttals on Aug. 30
Should Santa Rosa voters pass a quarter-cent sales tax to help bail the city out of its budget mess?
Our City Hall reporter, Kevin McCallum, just got a copy of the rebuttals to the official arguments for and against the sales tax measure on the Nov. 2 ballot. As you might imagine, they have starkly different views on the subject.
The argument in favor of Measure P, co-authored by Mayor Susan Gorin and Councilwoman Jane Bender, stresses the city’s dire financial crisis and the severe service cuts on the horizon.
Public safety, parks, pools and senior centers are all mentioned as likely to endure additional cuts without the 8-year-long cash infusion from the proposed tax.
“By voting for a temporary quarter cent sales tax, the City of Santa Rosa can help to prevent these draconian cuts and restore badly needed services,” the ballot argument reads.
The Sonoma County Taxpayers Association takes a very different view, focusing instead on the peril posed by rising pension costs.
The city should try to live within its current budget, according to the argument by SCTA Executive Director Fred Levin. If it can’t, reducing the cost of pensions for retired workers should be its highest priority.
“Until Santa Rosa resolves the looming issue of retiree pension costs they have not earned the right to ask taxpayers for an increase in sales tax rate,” the group argues.
Check out the full arguments below. Which one makes the most sense to you? And which one do you think will triumph on Election Day?
— Ted Appel
Watch Sonoma County
The argument for Measure P
The City of Santa Rosa faces its most serious fiscal crisis due to the severe recession that has devastated our state and national economies.
Since 2007/08, the City’s general fund budget has been slashed by $21.9 million, or 16.8%. 174 positions, or 20% of the City’s employees, have been eliminated, including 14 police officer and 9 firefighter positions. Park maintenance staff has been reduced 70% and street maintenance staff by 25%.
The reduction in City services has been dramatic. One fire station is closed each day. One third of the City’s streetlights have been turned off. Our parks are turning brown, and potholes go unfilled. Gang prevention has been reduced, recreation programs decreased, homeless services cut back.
But unfortunately, the worst is yet to come.
City budget woes are expected to worsen by millions more, and Sacramento is poised to take even more money from local governments.
The grim reality is that more cuts will be made to the most basic of City services — including brownouts of up to 3 more fire stations and the elimination of up to 18 more police officers. Some parks will be closed, and park user fees will be implemented. On the chopping block may be the Ridgway and Finley Swim Centers, the Senior Center and our Homeless Center.
By voting for a temporary 1/4% cent sales tax, the City of Santa Rosa can help to prevent these draconian cuts and restore badly needed services.
For an additional tax of just 25 cents on every $100 we spend in Santa Rosa for the next eight years, Measure P will save our City’s most vital services. The funds will only be used for the most important general fund services, and the politicians in Sacramento can’t take it away.
Please vote Yes on Measure P.
The argument against Measure P
Until Santa Rosa resolves the looming issue of retiree pension costs they have not earned the right to ask taxpayers for an increase in sales tax rate.
The City has made cuts in the budget to respond to the pressures that have resulted from our current economic recession. We applaud them for doing that without asking the tax payers for more money at a time when most taxpayers are also suffering from financial pressures.
Ideally we would hope that the City would find a way to live within its present budget without pulling more from taxpayers’ pockets to fill City coffers. In any event, before asking for a tax increase the City must seriously address and make substantial progress toward resolving the biggest problem on the agenda, the exploding cost of funding excessive promises to retired employees. Failure to address this as the highest priority is equivalent to nibbling around the edges of the problem, but never getting to the real issue.
Taxpayers must force the City to address the major problem of inflated pension costs by keeping the pressure on. The greatest fear is that if a tax increase passes, the City will continue to push the pension cost issue off into the future, only making it worse.
To be sure there are many reasons to oppose the current sales tax increase. Including the fact in 2004 voters passed Measure 0, a sales tax increase that was supposed to solve their public safety problems. Now the City is asking for another quarter cent primarily for public safety.
The City simply has not made the case for increasing the sales tax. We recommend you vote no on Measure P.
Measure P supporters’ rebuttal
Contrary to the opponents’ argument, the City Council is seriously and aggressively addressing the costs of employee compensation and benefits.
The City has already realized more than $1,401,000 in savings from employee concessions during fiscal years 2009 and 2010. As part of the current fiscal year, additional employee concessions of approximately $2,512,000 are being negotiated with the various labor groups and management. These concessions will result in a three-year savings to the City of more than $3,913,000, of which $2,771,000 applies to the General Fund.
In addition, the City Council is actively pursuing reduced retirement pension benefits by providing new non-public safety employees a lower pension benefit (establishing a “two tier system”). State law forbids the reduction of retirement benefits for its current employees and retirees.
Once fully implemented, the two-tier system will reduce the City’s future non-public safety employee pension costs, but the savings will not be fully realized for several years — a prime reason why a short-term sales tax is necessary.
Without additional revenue for a limited time, additional budget reductions will have to be initiated. The next round of budget cuts will reduce and/or eliminate vital basic services provided by the City of Santa Rosa.
The question is: “Is it important to you to maintain core services? If so, is it worth 25 cents on every $100 you spend until the economy improves and pension reduction plans take effect?” We believe it is.
Vote Yes on Measure P.
Measure P opponents’ rebuttal
Santa Rosa’s supporters of Measure P just don’t get it. This falls election is all about the economy. It is about the rising pension costs that is a major factor in layoffs, service cuts, tax and fee increases. Unless this problem is addressed, the City will be seeking additional taxes to pay for employee benefits.
The proponents of this tax increase are using scare tactics to convince you to vote for more taxes and more government spending. They use phrases such as “the worst is yet to come”, “the grim reality is that more cuts will be made to most basic City services”.
All of us have been affected by this recession, but we don’t go to our bosses and say we demand more money. We are fortunate to have our jobs. The taxpayers have tighten their belts and government should do the same.
The City is saying this a temporary tax. When was the last time government really instituted a temporary tax?
The City has turned away retail development that would have brought much needed jobs and sales tax revenue to help with the City’s deficit. Instead, they want the taxpayer to bail them out once again.
The City indicates the increased sales tax money will be used primarily for public safety, but not long ago the voters approved Measure O a sales tax increase to fund pubic safety.
When is enough, enough. Vote no on Measure P and force the City to live within its means.