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Sales Tax Initiative Prepped For Ballot

POSTED June 8, 2011 1:07 a.m.
Meeting late into the night on Monday, June 6, Oakdale City Council members were part of a session that included several hours of discussion, finger pointing, and pleading over the possibility of the city going forward with a special sales tax measure. In the end, whether “begrudgingly” or “cautiously,” the council unanimously approved going forward with the initiative and will ask the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors to place on the November 2011 ballot a vote for a half-cent sales tax increase over a three-year period.
In May, the council commissioned Godbe Research of San Mateo County to perform a survey on the viability of the tax initiative that would raise the sales tax in Oakdale.
On Monday night, Bryan Godbe made a presentation reviewing the survey results that showed 67 percent of those contacted supported the tax hike to continue to maintain the level of services, including public safety, parks, street maintenance, and the senior center.
Godbe stated a half-cent sales tax increase for a period of three years had the highest measure of passing.
The agenda item brought out many citizens speaking out on both sides of the issue, pro and con.
On one side, some stated the survey questions themselves were biased to bring out a positive response or that there were options other than a tax increase.
“During the survey I was thinking, ‘it feels like you’re trying to drag my vote out of me,’” said one individual who had been surveyed.
“It was a terrible survey and I couldn’t understand what they were saying,” said another, who felt the telephone questions overall were confusing.
Former Mayor Farrell Jackson spoke out that he did not support the sales tax increase stating that its purpose was to fund “Cadillac pension plans and benefits” of city employees. He said he felt taxpayers were foregoing necessities in life to give toward the public employees’ welfare.
Jackson suggested that the city dip into the $1.8 million reserve rather than have a sales tax. He referred to the Stockton Police Department whose members made concessions to save jobs and urged the city negotiate or impose concessions onto the city labor groups.
City resident Don Lyman countered Jackson’s argument, pointing out that Jackson was one of the ones that negotiated the exact measure he was criticizing.
“These were negotiated by you in good faith,” said Lyman. “What happened to that ‘good faith’?”
For the other faction, one of the ad hoc committee’s co chairs, Mickey Peabody, stated she disputed the survey was skewered in favor of the tax.
“We wanted to hear from the voters,” Peabody said. “What do the people want to do?”
Some citizens said the extra money spent over the course of the year was worth their safety and asked the council to let the voters decide on the measure.
Both heads of the police and firefighters association addressed the council stating they already had made concessions and had not had raises in over five years.
Oakdale Police Detective and Police Officers Association President Brian Shimmel said the measure wasn’t about pay and benefits but was needed to avoid further cuts to an already stripped down police force.
“The bad guys will fill our streets and move into our neighborhoods,” claimed Shimmel. “Let the voters decide.”
Before the vote, council members voiced their opinion on the matter.
Councilman Tom Dunlop said he had his “misgivings” on the measure and did not know where he stood on a tax increase to residents. He wanted to hear what his fellow councilmembers had to say.
Councilwoman Kathy Morgan referred to the measure as a “Band-aid approach” but said she did not think the measure would hurt.
Councilman Michael Brennan stated he would be voting in favor of putting the measure on the ballot and letting the people decide was worth the risk.
Dunlop added that he was uncomfortable claiming the city was in a fiscal emergency, a declaration required to get the measure on the ballot, with a reserve of over $1 million.
Finance Director Albert Avila chimed in that the reserve only covered about two months of the city’s operating costs and that some revenue doesn’t come in until later in the year, which is why the reserve should remain untouched.
“It would make a tight ability to operate,” Avila said.
The council already authorized $10,000 on the survey and estimates another $7,500 to $8,000 to put it on the November ballot.
Brennan motioned to have the item move forward with a slight wording adjustment and the measure passed unanimously, also required to move it to the next step, seeking approval from the county Board of Supervisors to place it on the ballot.
The half-cent measure would raise the current sales tax from 8.375 percent to 8.875 percent. If passed, the temporary sales tax would bring in approximately $1.2 million to city coffers.
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