Council: Clock is ticking on asking
voters for special SPPD sales tax

May 02, 2014
Santa Paula News

The clock is ticking for the City Council to make a decision at Monday’s meeting for a proposed ballot initiative to ask voters to approve an increase in the local sales tax to help beef up police services.

According City Attorney John Cotti’s report, the sales tax could bring $400,000 to $1.6 million in revenue depending on the percentage added to the city’s present 7.5 percent sales tax.

A .5 percent increase could generate $810,000 annually. 

The council will be asked to decide on whether to ask voters to tax themselves, how much of a percentage would be imposed and whether it would be a general tax or special tax.

A general tax legally could be used for any purpose even if initiative language states intended use. Such a tax requires a simple majority of voters to approve it after the measure passes council muster with a super majority of four out of five votes.

A special tax is legally restricted to the purposes identified in the ballot measure but requires two-thirds voter approval, although just a simple council majority to place the measure on the ballot.

Cotti’s report noted that although the use of public funds for any purpose is prohibited for any campaign a citizens campaign committee or advisory group could be organized under council leadership.

If approved, a sales tax increase would follow Santa Paulans whenever they made large purchases that require registration, such as automobiles, no matter where the purchase is made.

Such an increase could be a hard sell for cash-strapped Santa Paulans still trying to budget for perhaps the highest sewer costs in the county when the sewage surcharge is factored in. Although a consultant’s study has been launched to examine the highly controversial sewage surcharge, now $1.12 per hundred cubic feet (748 gallons) added to the base monthly sewer charge of more than $77, the upcoming report would also include additional rate increases for council consideration.

Citizens have been dismayed by the increase in crime, particularly homicides: since May 2013 there have been eight murders, a number that matches total homicides between 2003 and 2012, as well as disgruntled at the reduction of police services.

Through attrition the SPPD shrank from a high of 34 sworn officers in 2009 to 26 sworn officers in 2012 to last year’s 20 sworn officers. Reserve and support personnel have also decreased. The SPPD now is authorized for 28 sworn officers, a number filled including five new officers that are in training.

Recently Limoneira Co. and the city entered into a three-year agreement where each would kick in $250,000 annually for a total of $1.5 million for SPPD improvements.

The deal council approved the deal although a majority was reluctant noting there was no spending plan presented, a report not yet released.

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