The opposition to the two tax measures on the June ballot represents an interesting merger between the conservative Yolo County Taxpayers Association, represented by the current acting president Mike Nolan as well as the past acting president John Munn (interestingly enough, Mr. Munn is a one-time school board member and Mr. Nolan is a two-time school board candidate), and the old-time progressives Pam Nieberg and Don Price.
We start with looking at the argument against Measure H. The thing about Measure H is that it is basically an extension of the existing parks tax at $49, and the only twists are that it has an automatic inflator that will keep the present value (a good deal less than the original value) constant, and extend it for 20 years.
The opponents, however, act as though this a tax increase – which it fundamentally is not. They argue: “Davis does not have a revenue problem in maintaining our beloved Parks.”
That is not exactly true. The parks tax only funds a small portion of the total parks budget and this renewal does not increase that. The parks tax only funds $1.4 million of the $7.7 million budget for parks maintenance. The city identified about $1 million in additional annual costs over the next ten-year period. That means that the necessary money in infrastructure needs to maintain our parks is not coming in this revenue measure.
However, even if you argue we have sufficient money right now for parks, defeating this measure will slash that budget by one-quarter. So, while we could argue we don’t have a revenue problem, we would create one by defeating the renewal.
The opponents are right that the city has an employee spending problem and that, in 2004, the voter-approved sales tax went instead to employee compensation. Regarding the 2012 parks tax, however, they confuse the issue by throwing it together with the sales tax increases.
They ask, “Where did all that money go? Well, from 2012 to 2016 the average total salary and benefits for all full-time City employees increased over 25% from $99,849 to $124,954.” That’s not exactly true. The money from the 2012 parks tax is going, all $1.4 million of it, to parks. Some of the money from the sales tax did go to a Cost-of-Living Adjustment (although that COLA represents the only actually salary adjustment in the last ten years).
And this is not exactly true either: “But the City government has done virtually nothing to control employee compensation which now totals almost $38 million annually for just over 300 employees.”
The city has probably not done enough to control employee compensation, BUT, they have done a lot more than nothing, with a series of new bargaining agreements that have at the very least reduced salaries in real dollars since 2009.
The city has also brought on Bob Leland as a consultant, who has helped identify actual city costs over time – something that the city has done.
The question that the voters need to ask is – if the city is using the parcel tax for the parks to supplement a small portion of parks costs, does eliminating that money help us to fix the long term fiscal problems in the city or does it simply make the problems worse?
Meanwhile, the Vanguard has long identified roads as a critical underfunded need in the city. Thanks in part to the Vanguard’s efforts, the city has gone from paying virtually no money into the roads fund prior to 2012, to providing about $3 million of general fund money today.
The opponents play on the skepticism of the city, making the argument that “our City is now promising that this time they really will use ALL of the new taxes only for transportation infrastructure needs.”
Additionally, the city promises that now these new taxes “…shall not be used to supplant existing funding for street and bike path maintenance improvements. The baseline maintenance of effort budget for this purpose shall be $3,000,000…”
But they say this promise is hollow. Three million dollars is actually the annual amount the city is now budgeting for road repavement alone. But this new tax measure also proposes to fund a wide variety of additional transportation infrastructure repairs, including “…sidewalks, bike paths, curbs, gutters, street and bike path drainage, signs, striping, and pavement markings, traffic signals and street lighting.”
They write: “The current budget for maintenance of all of these other infrastructure needs is an additional $4,550,000 annually. So the City is really only promising to continue spending $3,000,000 annually for road repavement but there is no guarantee they will continue to spend the additional $4,550,000 annually now budgeted for all of our other transportation infrastructure needs.”
That’s an interesting point by the opposition. Clearly the council was intending to commit to spend the money on new transportation infrastructure needs. Council did their best during their framing discussions to limit what the money could be spent on as well as the ability for them to play bait and switch.
In their response, the proponents of the measure argue: “Measure I revenue must be spent exclusively on streets, sidewalks, and bike paths. It requires the City to maintain its current ‘level of effort,’ meaning that all revenue from the new tax will be added to the $3 million currently being spent and cannot replace it. It cannot be spent on new construction, only on maintaining what we have.”
The voters now will have to decide if we need $2.8 million to maintain our roads, streets and sidewalks.
—David M. Greenwald reporting