As the meeting unexpectedly went late into the evening, the council converged in agreement on a revenue measure – actually two – for the June ballot. One meeting after opening the door again to a UUT (Utility User Tax), the council went back to supporting two separate parcel taxes.
It was Councilmember Will Arnold who made the initial motion to put a straight parks tax renewal at $49 on the ballot. The tax would be at the same level as the one passed in 2006 and 2012, but this time it would have a two percent annual inflator and be a 20-year term. Councilmember Lucas Frerichs seconded the motion.
Councilmember Frerichs then added an amendment for the second parcel tax – a parcel tax at $99 for transportation infrastructure. This one, basically a new tax primarily for roads, would be a 10-year tax, with an inflator not to exceed two percent.
There would be some jockeying on the form of the tax, but the basic structure held up for a 5-0 vote for staff to bring it back at next meeting with the specific resolution.
A key question was what the transportation infrastructure tax should fund. It was decided that the tax would fund streets, bike lanes, bike paths, and sidewalks, along with traffic maintenance including signals, signs, and striping. Eliminated from the list were public facilities, surface parking lots, and transit stops.
“No new infrastructure here,” Mayor Robb Davis clarified.
Councilmember Arnold opposed attempts to change the costs for single versus multi-family dwelling units. “I’m not willing to accept any amendment about reducing that rate. Again it adds to lack
of clarity about who’s paying what and how much. There are some equity issues – I think they can be addressed if we think it’s too much of an ask. “
Another question was the length of the term. Will Arnold, who made the original motion, told his colleagues, “I still want somebody to try to convince me to go permanent on the parks, I’m not hearing that.”
Mayor Pro Tem Brett Lee asked, “Under what circumstances can you see us not needing that money 20 years from now?” He continued, “The $49 ask is pretty modest. I think if we’re honest with ourselves, I can’t imagine a scenario where we wouldn’t need that money and I think that trend is that it is more difficult over time to pass tax measures.”
He said, “If we’re going to have it low at $49 and then risk not being able to renew in 20 years, I’m not sure we’re doing ourselves a favor.”
On the other hand, Lucas Frerichs countered, “Not sure I really want to go in the permanent route.” As he pointed out, “I think it really creates another level of accountability.”
There were also several proposals to reduce the overall amount from $99 to $80 (as Brett Lee suggested) or $79 (for which Rochelle Swanson tried to get an amendment).
Brett Lee suggested the possibility that a lower, but longer parcel tax for roads would allow the council to potentially bond off the measure and gain more money in the short-term for roads. However, staff suggested they would need to go a minimum of 20 years to do that.
Will Arnold was not supportive of that idea.
“I don’t see an appetite for 20 years for a new parcel tax,” he said. “I think if we’re not going to go permanent on the parcel tax, which I’m hearing, I feel like we’re being about as ambitious as we can be on that.”
Councilmember Swanson, as stated above, proposed amending the transportation parcel tax to $79.
Will Arnold was reluctant, saying, “I wanted to be even more ambitious in terms of dollar amount.”
Rochelle Swanson did add, “I’m looking for cheerleaders here, that’s going to be the next part of this. There better be some serious cheerleaders in this community that’s been asking us to take a smaller bite.”
“We’re going too low for me,” Mayor Robb Davis jumped in on the $79 versus $99 question. “I’m not supportive of $79. I don’t sense it from Lucas (Frerichs), I think he wants to stay closer to $99.”
“The principal that Brett (Lee) laid out last week – we weren’t going to try to fund the full amount with our tax – that was an important statement that we made,” he explained. “My fear has always been that people would say we weren’t bold enough.
“Remember the last parks tax, we weren’t bold enough. We’ve covered that a little bit through inflators. We’ve covered a little of that through a recognition that there’s only so much that we can ask of the community and we’ve also said, future councils need to look for opportunities to grow revenue and to contain costs,” he continued.
“We’ve said all those things, we don’t have clear plans for all those but we’re basically acknowledging to the community that yes, we can only come to you and request a certain amount in taxation,” he said. “We’re asking for half of what we think the gap is. We’re closing half the gap that we’ve identified carefully over a period of time. That’s what we’re saying. That’s the message.”
The rest will be up to cost savings and other revenue sources to make the gap smaller.
Again, the council ultimately voted 5-0 to have staff come back to them with the actual revenue measure at the next meeting.
The next question is whether the community will support it. A key supporter, however, came up in line earlier in the meeting. Alan Pryor, who had been against the tax, seemed to be on board during public comment.
Alan Pryor foreshadowed the ultimate measure during his public comment.
He said, “I think if you ask almost anyone in this city, what do you got to fix, they’re going to tell you it’s the street surfaces. I really think that’s what you should be focusing on.”
He added, “I think the people of Davis will pony up for street surfaces and bike paths, perhaps as much as $150.” He said, “They will want to keep their parks green, so I propose that we renew the parks tax at $49 a year.”
He suggested a $199 parcel tax. The council, following similar logic, is putting together two taxes, which gets them to $148 a year plus inflators.
—David M. Greenwald reporting