By CLARK MASON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
In a public presentation that was intended to avoid advocacy, Healdsburg officials on Tuesday said the proposed half-cent sales tax hike on next week’s election ballot will help avoid deep cuts to core services.
City Manager Marjie Pettus said Measure V, which would raise an estimated $1 million annually for 10 years, “will help us maintain services and put programs and services that were previously cut back into the budget.”
The intent, she said, is to ensure public money isn’t spent pushing a point of view.
But Tim Meinken, the only City Council candidate opposed to the sales tax increase, said the city manager’s 15-minute PowerPoint presentation was far from fair, nonpartisan, or nonpolitical.
“It’s a sales promotion if I’ve ever seen one,” he told The Press Democrat. “There’s not one negative point in the entire presentation. And there are many, many positive points.”
Meinken said the city should have analyzed the potential deterrent that raising the sales tax to 8.5 percent from 8 percent could have on businesses, particularly the city’s car and truck dealers.
Nor did the city present any data on how the sales tax could impact retirees and low-income residents, he said.
But officials from the Chamber of Commerce, which has endorsed Measure V, had an opposing point of view.
“I don’t think people pay attention to the sales tax. If they did, they wouldn’t buy anything,” Carla Howell, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, said after the meeting. And she said the sales tax that people pay on a vehicle is determined by where they live, not where they buy it.
Overall, Howell described Measure V as “business friendly” because “you can’t do business in a town that doesn’t have infrastructure and police protection.”
City officials said the extra revenue the sales tax produces would be spent according to City Council funding priorities such as public safety, street and sidewalk maintenance and repair, economic development and deferred maintenance of city facilities such as the senior center, Villa Chanticleer and library.
The council would determine in its annual budget review how to spend the money, and there would be an annual accounting on how the funds are spent.
But Meinken and others questioned how much of the extra sales tax revenue will be left after the city plugs its general fund deficit, estimated at $808,000 this budget year.
“They haven’t said what amount will be left after funding the $800,000 deficit enacted by the current City Council,” he said.
None of the four council members who attended the meeting spoke publicly, but afterwards Mayor Gary Plass said the goal is to reduce the deficit in part by generating additional revenue sources beyond the sales tax hike.
“If we’re successful in establishing lower costs and new revenues, the $1 million could go to roads,” he said. Measure V could also be rescinded in less than 10 years if the economy improves, he said.
“The goal is not to spend all our reserves,” he said. “If we do, we’ll be broke in four years.”
In her presentation, Pettus said Measure V is needed because the state abolished redevelopment programs and enacted various other takeaways.
In addition, she said the economic downturn has led to reduced hotel bed taxes, sales and property tax revenues. And despite significant cuts, expenses have outpaced revenues.
She said the city has reduced staff by 18 percent through layoffs, incentives and attrition. Employees now pay more toward retirement and medical benefits,
The city has also implemented furloughs, with six unpaid days off per year, and reorganized and consolidated departments.
“Employees have been generous,” she said of the concessions from the labor groups.
You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or firstname.lastname@example.org.