At least two dozen people spoke on Tuesday at public comment. As expected, many were members of the sports communities – little league, softball, soccer, swimming and even tennis. They all brought a similar message – our facilities are badly in need of upgrade or of altogether new facilities. However, council delivered one message strongly on Tuesday night – the discussion about a sports park, swimming pools and other sports facilities needed to be separated from the tax discussion.
While Robb Davis made it a point to state he favored a parcel tax over the Utility User Tax (UUT), the rest of the council seemed content to move forward on the process where the issue would come back in the fall when the council hopefully has more clarity on the exact infrastructure needs.
Councilmember Rochelle Swanson made the motion that the city have a Davis sports park complex advisory committee or task force like the city has done in the past for other major infrastructure. She asked that it be brought back in the first meeting after the summer break.
“There’s a lot of concern about what the subject matter of the vote is,” Councilmember Swanson explained. “My fear is that we’re going to lose a lot of momentum whether it’s support for a tax which is what we need.”
The council was clear on the need to separate the issue of the sports facilities from the tax conversation.
Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis stated, “I think we have to divorce the conversation about a sports park from the UUT or any type of tax measure that we would eventually have.” He added, “In my opinion we need to look at the existing infrastructure backlogs that we have for roads, key city building, the fleet… and other key infrastructure needs.”
The mayor pro tem pushed the council to keep its goals in mind. After enumerating some of these goals, he stated, “These are things that are in our goals and what they’re designed to do is they’re designed to position us to be able to create clarity for the community about what it’s going cost to fix the things we already have.”
“I believe strongly that we need to follow through on those goals,” he said. “At this point in time we do not have a goal related to the creation of a sports park. We did not set that goal last fall.” He added, “We want to be very cautious about adding new goals but we don’t exclude that possibility. But if we do, that means we need to be able to alleviate staff time and take it off something else.”
He stated that he is unwilling to take back time on the things he mentioned related to goals one and six, regarding fiscal sustainability and infrastructure.
Councilmember Swanson said that, instead of having a discussion of our sports infrastructure needs, we have people coming forward from various sports saying “please fund us, please fund us.” She said there are opportunities here to address sports needs but at the same time “bringing clarity to our tax measure. So that folks feel comfortable because I do agree with a lot of people when they say a general advisory vote makes them uncomfortable – they’re worried about what’s going to happen in two years. How do we give our community assurances?”
Councilmember Brett Lee stated that he wanted to talk about the roads and infrastructure needs that he saw as more pressing than sports parks and pools.
But Councilmember Swanson explained, “I think that was my purpose, so that we can focus on the roads and the current infrastructure, was by taking this piece out… and allow us to delve into our existing infrastructure issues.”
Robb Davis added, “We need to clear the decks on this, we need to move the conversation about sports parks which is not even a city council goal at this point, we need to move it aside, do our homework, look at all of the options for improving what people need – but we need to focus our attention on the fundamental backlogs that we have already identified…”
Lucas Frerichs said that he is agreement that we need to put core infrastructure – roads and parks, which in many cases are in disrepair – as a priority. However, “I also think that there is an ability for us to envision a future in this community that is grand and also is achievable. That includes building a sports park.”
Robb Davis stated, “By moving this away from the UUT, I am not expecting this to inform the UUT.” He said if we go in the direction of a UUT, that needs to be about core infrastructure needs.
After agreeing to have an advisory body on sports facilities, the conversation moved back to the core issue of the Utility User Tax.
Mr. Davis said that we need to “have a full accounting of the backlogs that exist in this community.” He noted that a year ago he voted against putting a measure on the ballot, believing that we needed a fuller accounting of our needs. A year later, he is glad to see those studies being implemented.
“I think it’s important, before we put a ballot measure out,” the Mayor Pro Tem explained, “that we have clarity on the things that we’re actually asking them to cover. Then we have a plan in place for addressing those needs.”
“I think it’s premature to talk about an amount… until we have an accounting of the costs,” he said. He was concerned, however, “that what we’re going to find is that our needs probably outstrip our ability to raise resources to cover them.” He said, as a city we need to figure out a long-term strategy for doing that – economic development will come to a point where we have extra resources.
Mayor Pro Tem Davis said, “In an ideal world, I would prefer to support a parcel tax.” He said while he thinks it’s “regressive,” “the accountability that comes with it is important. I don’t see energy for that.” There is no recommendation from his colleagues on it. The only way he would feel comfortable with a UUT is if the city council lays out the goals and objectives he laid out earlier in the evening.
Lucas Frerichs pointed out that this has been an ongoing discussion for a long time but at some point we need to take action on it. They have until February to figure out the specifics. “I think it’s imperative for us to continue to have this community conversation and dialogue with folks to have community awareness that we are going to be pursuing some sort of revenue measure,” he said. Most likely, he said, that would be in the form of a Utility User Tax.
City Manager Dirk Brazil explained that, at this point, they have the guidance they need. They need to get all of the information that they possibly can so that they can “have something that is going to pass muster with the public – we have a lot of outstanding issues that have to be buttoned up before we can say this is the amount we need and this is what is going to be covered.”
However, as Robb Davis reiterated at the end, “I have no illusion that we’re going to be able to raise enough money to cover all of the backlogs that we currently have.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting