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Council Approves $10K For Sales Tax Survey
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With the assistance of $5,000 in joint contributions from the Oakdale police and firefighters unions, the Oakdale City Council authorized $10,000 for the hiring of Godbe Research to conduct a poll regarding voter opinion regarding a sales tax initiative for this year’s November ballot.

The approval comes at the request from the community ad-hoc committee that is exploring the feasibility of a city sales tax increase to offset the city’s recent budget cuts and shortfalls to the general fund. Committee Co-Chairs Frank Clark and Mickey Peabody along with Godbe Research Representative Charles Hester made a presentation to the city council at the May 2 council meeting.

The purpose of the survey is to determine if the probability of passage would be beneficial before the costs for the election.

The original proposal asked for $15,000 to cover Godbe’s fee. During the meeting councilman Mike Brennan commented that he wondered if any of the city’s labor unions would be interested in contributing since the outcome of a special sales tax would save some of their jobs.

Oakdale Police Officers Association President Brian Shimmel and Oakdale City Firefighters Association President Tony Miranda advised the council that each association would contribute $2,500 to offset the $15,000 cost of the survey.

“If this is what it takes, we’ll step up,” said POA President and OPD Detective Brian Shimmel. “Both organizations have the best interest of the city to maintain levels of service for the citizens.”

Shimmel said that a special meeting was held with his members prior to the council meeting and the association overwhelmingly voted to support the donation.

“The members don’t want to lose any more services to the citizens of Oakdale,” Shimmel added. “Not just police and fire, but all services including public works and recreation.”

Mayor Pat Paul asked Peabody and Clark if possibly volunteers could handle the polling and survey taking.

Clark stated the methods used by Godbe were very precise in their gathering of information, best not to be left to “amateurs.”

“For special polling, you need professionals,” Peabody said. “We’re also under a big gun time wise to get this done and don’t have time to train anyone.”

Acting City Manager Mike Botto interjected that the City of Tracy strongly suggested the use of a professional as the proper route in determining opinion to put a sales tax initiative on the ballot.

Councilman Tom Dunlop said he strongly opposed the sales tax initiative and doubted he would approve moving forward if it came up, believing city employees still needed to make more concessions. He did state he was open to see what the voting public believed and seconded the motion to vote on the proposal.

On a 5-0 vote, the council adopted a resolution authorizing payment of the $10,000 from the city’s economic development fund.

After the meeting, Clark said he was not surprised by the council’s vote.

“If you’re going to do it, you can’t leave it to chance,” Clark said. “If you’re going to do a job right, you’re going to want to use your best resources.”

“I’m sorry they (police and fire associations) had to do that,” said Peabody. “In the campaign it would have been nice to have their funding.”

Peabody went on to say that laws prohibit a city from financing a campaign, but they could use public funds to educate the public or explore a prospective measure, such as the polling.

Mayor Pat Paul stated her vote did not mean she was pushing the sales tax initiative.

“I’m going to be as lean as I can before I go to the public and ask for any more money,” Paul said.

Hester said the polling — done over the phone — would concentrate on a variety of likely voters by gender, age, ethnicity, and length of residence that would mirror the city.

The telephone surveys would last between 15 to 18 minutes and questions would center around the percentage increase voters would be willing to pay and the types of services they would like to see the money used for in the budget.

Godbe Research is out of San Mateo County and has over 20 years experience in public opinion polling, research, surveys, and focus groups. Hester said voters could expect getting calls by the end of May.

The council would still have to pass, by a unanimous vote, putting the measure on the November 2011 ballot. If passed by the council, the measure would also have to go before the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors by June 17.