Council Votes 4-1 to delay Parcel Tax

parcel-tax-ballotBy Michelle Millet

On Tuesday night, city council, after some debate – a majority of which took place between Brett Lee and newly-elected councilmember Robb Davis – decided to delay placing any parcel tax on the fall ballot. While they voted to place a parcel tax on the spring ballot, they were undecided about what the tax should fund.

Councilmember Lee started the discussion by making a two-part motion.

The first part included a recommendation that council appoint a subcommittee to look into all the recreational infrastructure needs of the city and place a parcel tax to pay for these items on either the 2015 or 2016 spring ballot.

The second part of the motion was that council vote to place a $48 dollar per parcel 30-year revenue measure on this coming November ballot, to specifically fund road repair.

When questioned by councilmember Swanson about the amount, Lee responded, “$48, if bonded over 30 years, represents 20 million dollars upfront. So spending in the neighborhood of 10 million dollars in year one and 10 million in year two helps front load some of the overdue repairs of our roads. That combined with the money from Measure O, I think, is a very solid first step.”

Councilmember Davis responded to Lee’s motion by saying that he would like to move in a different direction.

He argued that, before a parcel tax was put forward, the city should have a better picture of all of its infrastructure needs. He recommended that staff should spend the next 6-10 months on a systematic process that would identify these needs.

Davis stated, “People want to know the magnitude of the challenge, they are not afraid of it, they don’t want us to hide things, they want us to put stuff out there, they want in a sense to have us treat them like adults.”

Davis feels that the 4.7 million dollars set aside by the previous council to pay for street repairs was enough for the city to get started on road repair while the infrastructure analysis was being completed. He claimed he did not believe that a $50 parcel tax would move them far enough, and the city needed more time to lay out a broader picture to the community of its exact needs.

Councilmember Lee argued that the city has substantial unfunded liabilities that could not be met in what could be asked for in one parcel tax. He stated, “This council was presented about a year ago with a very comprehensive look of the roads so I have no problem supporting a parcel tax for something we know we need.” He continued, “As the pavement consultant said time equals money, I would hate to delay for another year making this effort.”

Lee went on to state that the magnitude of the unfunded liabilities is an opportunity to help the public understand why a tech park, and the revenue it could potentially generate, is so vital to the community’s economic health. He stated,  “We need to have some economic development. The idea is that will have an innovation park, we do need that for revenue, so that we don’t just simply rely on taxing the community to take care of all our needs.”

Councilmember Swanson expressed concern over having separate parcel taxes to address different needs, fearing doing so may put passage of later ones at risk. She also stated that she was inclined to wait until spring to put a tax measure on the ballot, claiming that the extra time would give council a better opportunity to educate the community about the fiscal needs of the city.

Councilmember Frerichs stated that, while he was not interested in putting a tax measure on the November ballot, he did support Lee’s motion to form a council sub-committee to examine recreational infrastructure needs. He also stated that he was unsure if he was interested in supporting a parcel tax just for roads and a separate one for amenities.

Ultimately, a motion was put forward by Frerichs and seconded by Swanson to delay putting any potential parcel tax on the ballot and to form a subcommittee to develop a comprehensive infrastructure needs list.

The motion passed 4-1, with Lee casting the dissenting vote.

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14 Comments

  1. Frankly

    And here might be the first view of the tiger’s stripes. Council member Lee was, again, the only reasonable voice of getting something done. He reflected what the focus groups have said… move forward with a comprehensive plan that focuses on building up our currently grossly inadequate business-generated tax revenue while we cover the baseline necessities with temporary tax increases. Council member Davis and his other colleagues quickly settled back into what we have grown to expect… delay the decision with analysis paralysis and figure out the maximum tax increase they can push.

    Here is the bottom line.

    Tax increases must be to cover the bare necessities. Everything else should be funded by either expense cuts or new revenue sources from economic development.

    If this CC tries to sneak in pools and other nice-to-have goodies into a larger parcel tax, it will die on the vine.

    And here is where council member Lee is absolutely correct. Focus on the roads for the parcel tax and focus on economic development for everything else.

    1. David Greenwald

      There is an interesting policy question here – do you take what you can now, even if it’s not enough – and hope to get a second bite later? Or do you try to pass what you need and hope you can sell it to the voters?

      1. Frankly

        It is gambling, yes.

        But I think there is a principled consideration that supersedes the gamble. And it might even be considered a moral consideration. What is the right thing to do?

        We are talking about a shortfall paying for existing necessities and also nice-to-have amenities. We are not talking about a parcel tax to pay for new amenities… something that I might support. Since we are talking about a funding deficit for these things we already have, we are correcting for a history of mismanagement. Because we absolutely knew that we were spending and committing more than we were taking in and we absolutely knew the trajectory was leading us down a path to insolvency.

        We knew yet we didn’t do the right things.

        And now we are needing another bailout from tax payers.

        But is just wrong to tax increase bailouts from already tapped out taxpayers for luxury amenities when the necessities are underfunded.

        Look at it this way… If our roads are really underfunded by $100 million or more, how can we justify any tax increase going to other things if we cannot fully fund the road maintenance?

      2. Michelle Millet

        This seems like it should have been a slam dunk. Roads should be the priority. Mixing them with other “nice to have” items IMO is not a good policy decision, nor is delaying the funding source to fix them. I’m concerned with the direction council took on this one, I think it was a mistake.

        1. Matt Williams

          It really boils down to a question of honesty. Are we being honest with ourselves if we ignore (sweep under the rug) our falling-down, leaking fire house? Are we being honest with ourselves if we ignore (sweep under the rug) the deferred maintenance on City buildings and structures? Are we being honest with ourselves if we ignore (sweep under the rug) the deferred maintenance on City buildings and structures? Are we being honest with ourselves if we ignore (sweep under the rug) the deferred maintenance on pools? Are we being honest with ourselves if we ignore (sweep under the rug) the deferred maintenance on parks?

          Thanks to the passage of Measure O there is sufficient funds available to begin serious work on the reducing the streets maintenance backlog. That money will be more than sufficient to last until the delayed date for any vote on any tax measure. Using that time to be honest with ourselves is an investment in our future.

  2. Frankly

    And here might be the first view of the tiger’s stripes. Council member Lee was, again, the only reasonable voice of getting something done. He reflected what the focus groups have said… move forward with a comprehensive plan that focuses on building up our currently grossly inadequate business-generated tax revenue while we cover the baseline necessities with temporary tax increases. Council member Davis and his other colleagues quickly settled back into what we have grown to expect… delay the decision with analysis paralysis and figure out the maximum tax increase they can push.

    Here is the bottom line.

    Tax increases must be to cover the bare necessities. Everything else should be funded by either expense cuts or new revenue sources from economic development.

    If this CC tries to sneak in pools and other nice-to-have goodies into a larger parcel tax, it will die on the vine.

    And here is where council member Lee is absolutely correct. Focus on the roads for the parcel tax and focus on economic development for everything else.

    1. David Greenwald

      There is an interesting policy question here – do you take what you can now, even if it’s not enough – and hope to get a second bite later? Or do you try to pass what you need and hope you can sell it to the voters?

      1. Frankly

        It is gambling, yes.

        But I think there is a principled consideration that supersedes the gamble. And it might even be considered a moral consideration. What is the right thing to do?

        We are talking about a shortfall paying for existing necessities and also nice-to-have amenities. We are not talking about a parcel tax to pay for new amenities… something that I might support. Since we are talking about a funding deficit for these things we already have, we are correcting for a history of mismanagement. Because we absolutely knew that we were spending and committing more than we were taking in and we absolutely knew the trajectory was leading us down a path to insolvency.

        We knew yet we didn’t do the right things.

        And now we are needing another bailout from tax payers.

        But is just wrong to tax increase bailouts from already tapped out taxpayers for luxury amenities when the necessities are underfunded.

        Look at it this way… If our roads are really underfunded by $100 million or more, how can we justify any tax increase going to other things if we cannot fully fund the road maintenance?

      2. Michelle Millet

        This seems like it should have been a slam dunk. Roads should be the priority. Mixing them with other “nice to have” items IMO is not a good policy decision, nor is delaying the funding source to fix them. I’m concerned with the direction council took on this one, I think it was a mistake.

        1. Matt Williams

          It really boils down to a question of honesty. Are we being honest with ourselves if we ignore (sweep under the rug) our falling-down, leaking fire house? Are we being honest with ourselves if we ignore (sweep under the rug) the deferred maintenance on City buildings and structures? Are we being honest with ourselves if we ignore (sweep under the rug) the deferred maintenance on City buildings and structures? Are we being honest with ourselves if we ignore (sweep under the rug) the deferred maintenance on pools? Are we being honest with ourselves if we ignore (sweep under the rug) the deferred maintenance on parks?

          Thanks to the passage of Measure O there is sufficient funds available to begin serious work on the reducing the streets maintenance backlog. That money will be more than sufficient to last until the delayed date for any vote on any tax measure. Using that time to be honest with ourselves is an investment in our future.

  3. DavisBurns

    I watched the cc meeting. I agree with Brett Lee. The community knows we have a fiscal crisis and the roads have been the main topic of conversation. I think the $48 would pass and part of campaign should have been, this is part two of a three part plan. First was the sales tax increase, now it’s the roads and next will be a comprehensive report on all infastructure and a plan to remediate. As I heard it we aren’t faced with nice to haves but city owned and used buildings with deferred maintenance costs as bad as the roads. It is a risk that number 3 tax wouldn’t pass but there is always a risk.

    I strongly agree with Robb Davis that we must have a comprehensive assessment of our unfounded liabilities and have a plan to meet our obligations.

    Regarding pools. As a pool owner who would rather not be, you can’t just drain the pool. The city codes require you drill holes in the concrete and other stuff that isn’t free. Just in case someone thinks we can just walk away from a non functional pool.

  4. DavisBurns

    I watched the cc meeting. I agree with Brett Lee. The community knows we have a fiscal crisis and the roads have been the main topic of conversation. I think the $48 would pass and part of campaign should have been, this is part two of a three part plan. First was the sales tax increase, now it’s the roads and next will be a comprehensive report on all infastructure and a plan to remediate. As I heard it we aren’t faced with nice to haves but city owned and used buildings with deferred maintenance costs as bad as the roads. It is a risk that number 3 tax wouldn’t pass but there is always a risk.

    I strongly agree with Robb Davis that we must have a comprehensive assessment of our unfounded liabilities and have a plan to meet our obligations.

    Regarding pools. As a pool owner who would rather not be, you can’t just drain the pool. The city codes require you drill holes in the concrete and other stuff that isn’t free. Just in case someone thinks we can just walk away from a non functional pool.

  5. Tia Will

    Matt

    I think that it boils down to more than just a question of being honest with ourselves. It also boils down to a very fundamental difference in philosophy.

    Frankly stated “Tax increases must be to cover the bare necessities. Everything else should be funded by either expense cuts or new revenue sources from economic development.”

    I fundamentally disagree with this idea. I believe that as adults living in, benefitting from, voting in favor of certain projects that some might consider as “only amenities” we have an obligation to “pay as we go” for the benefits we ourselves have chosen. We have not been doing this as a city. Now we need to pay for our chosen expenditures be they roads, or greenbelts or pools or other public recreational areas.

    Now I agree with Michelle that we need to prioritize and that streets, greenbelts and sidewalks should take precedence. But I also agree with Robb that the citizens deserve a full accounting of what the entire deficit for city infrastructure is before we attempt to assess how much we are willing to pay. I do not see this as “Council member Davis and his other colleagues quickly settled back into what we have grown to expect… delay the decision with analysis paralysis and figure out the maximum tax increase they can push. What I see is an acknowledgement that road repair is necessary and should go forward with funds now available, and that the city council should do exactly what citizens have been asking for, provide a full accounting of infrastructure deficit on which to build consensus for possible future parcel taxes. And yes, that also is a gamble.

  6. Tia Will

    Matt

    I think that it boils down to more than just a question of being honest with ourselves. It also boils down to a very fundamental difference in philosophy.

    Frankly stated “Tax increases must be to cover the bare necessities. Everything else should be funded by either expense cuts or new revenue sources from economic development.”

    I fundamentally disagree with this idea. I believe that as adults living in, benefitting from, voting in favor of certain projects that some might consider as “only amenities” we have an obligation to “pay as we go” for the benefits we ourselves have chosen. We have not been doing this as a city. Now we need to pay for our chosen expenditures be they roads, or greenbelts or pools or other public recreational areas.

    Now I agree with Michelle that we need to prioritize and that streets, greenbelts and sidewalks should take precedence. But I also agree with Robb that the citizens deserve a full accounting of what the entire deficit for city infrastructure is before we attempt to assess how much we are willing to pay. I do not see this as “Council member Davis and his other colleagues quickly settled back into what we have grown to expect… delay the decision with analysis paralysis and figure out the maximum tax increase they can push. What I see is an acknowledgement that road repair is necessary and should go forward with funds now available, and that the city council should do exactly what citizens have been asking for, provide a full accounting of infrastructure deficit on which to build consensus for possible future parcel taxes. And yes, that also is a gamble.

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