Overall, when we evaluate the last council and the past four years, I think this council deserves a lot of credit for tackling and “solving” some of the big issues before it. Whether it was transitioning to Community Choice Energy and legalized cannabis dispensaries, putting in place a new fiscal model to help them identify long-term budget shortcomings, addressing the issue of police oversight in the wake of the Picnic Day incident, or finally getting the approval of Nishi to really alleviate the student housing crisis, this council has a very good track record of success in a relatively short period of time.
Two areas where I think it falls short is addressing the needs of the roads and economic development. That is not to say that the council is to “blame” for these shortcomings, as some of it was clearly beyond their control, but in the end, we judge based on what gets done and what doesn’t – and there remains some need in both areas.
For the purposes of this analysis, I am going to assume that the results for both Measures H and I will hold up – and, frankly, it is hard to imagine that voting patterns will shift enough to change the outcome measurably.
The voters in Davis overwhelmingly voted to renew the parks tax by a 72.5 to 27.5 margin. That is not surprising, as Measure H really was a plain renewal of the $49 a year tax that funds a portion of our parks. The two new features, a 20-year time horizon and a CPI (Consumer Price Index) inflator, are not seen as huge deal breakers or changes, and so nearly three-quarters of the voters were willing to renew it.
However, the roads tax, while it received a majority vote, fell well shy of the required two-thirds vote needed. To put that into perspective, to get two-thirds of the vote, it needed 7221 votes but received 6106 votes. That left it, at current count, 1115 votes shy of the two-thirds vote. That’s not a close call, even though by most measures, 56.7 percent of the vote is solid.
That puts the city in a further bind.
As Brett Lee explained during the public forum, the city has a robust financial model which recognizes we have an ongoing shortfall. “The financial experts have told us that we are short on an ongoing basis by about $8 million a year,” he said. This is projected out over 20 years. The city has made some expenditures, “but nowhere near what is needed.”
The council discussed options for addressing that, “and what we arrived at is that it would be reasonable for the public to help the city cut that gap in half.”
The council asked the voters to come up with $4 million in revenue as “the council looks for about $4 million in savings per year or enhanced revenue to equal that four million dollars per year.”
Dan Carson on election day explained, “The street and roads tax would have solved $3 million of that $8 million problem. So if it fails, as it now seems to be doing, we still have an $8 million a year problem to deal with. It’s still doable, but we’ll have our work cut out for us.”
That will clearly be a job for the new council to tackle.
From my perspective, there were several mistakes made here with this tax.
First, the council decided to put two measures on the ballot at once. That almost invited people to pick one rather than both. They naturally voted for the less expensive parks tax, which was a renewal, rather than the new $99 roads tax.
Second, had the council put a Utility User Tax or another majority tax on the ballot, we might not be having the discussion. A clear majority supported Measure I, but it was just well short of the supermajority needed for passage.
Instead, the council appears to have missed the window for a general tax – which can only come during a council election.
The next chance for a parcel tax would be this fall, but the school district is likely to have at least a facilities bond if not a voter-inspired parcel tax. Moreover, they would have to vote in the next month or so to put it on for November and that doesn’t seem to be in the works.
Finally, I would argue that the city ran a very low key campaign when they needed to run a much more robust campaign. This might work for the parks, but the council needed to actually sell the voters on a tax. They needed to run a campaign like they did in 2013 for the water project, with a professional consultant and plan of attack. Instead, it was an almost invisible effort and the result was predictable.
I think it is important for folks to remember that the cost of roads goes up each time we fail to address the backlog. And it goes up fairly rapidly. Right now we are addressing, at most, half of our annual road repair needs each year, which means that the costs for the other half go up precipitously.
It would be valuable for the city to do those calculations and lay out the cost. They probably should have done this for the last election as well.
We indeed have our work cut out for us here. We’ll see what the next council decides to do.
—David M. Greenwald reporting