The Colusa City Council last week voted to adopt a statement in support of Measure A, which will be placed alongside the ballot measure come November. The proposed measure will change the city’s tax rate from 7.5 percent to 8.25 percent.
Opponents of the measure will also have the opportunity to issue a statement on the ballot, explaining their position against the measure, before the general election.
For its part, the city is hoping that voters will pass the sales tax increase to help offset a projected budgetary shortfall of nearly $235,000 in fiscal year 2016-17 and beyond.
“This would be a great start,” Interim City Manager Randy Dunn said. “This is geared toward balancing the budget, keeping services going, and keeping our current personnel employed.”
The city’s budget projections for the next four years show an increasing deficit through 2020. The city anticipates that its expenditures will outstrip its revenues by nearly $303,000 in fiscal year 2017-18, about $368,000 in fiscal year 2018-19, and nearly $430,000 in fiscal year 2019-20. The cumulative effect of those annual deficits will cause the city’s general fund reserves to be completely exhausted by 2020, the city said.
In its statement of support, the city said the increase in sales tax could potentially generate up to $450,000 annually to help fund essential services, and that about 60 percent of the funds generated would be from out of town taxpayer dollars. If approved, the sales tax rate in Colusa would be raised from 7.5 percent to 8.25 percent, meaning that on a purchase of $100, the consumer would pay an additional $0.75.
“We have downsized staff, combined positions and done everything we can on the expenditure side, and if we go any further, it’s going to affect vital services. Beyond police and fire, it extends to streets, parks and trees, and beyond,” Councilmember Greg Ponciano said. “We don’t have a spending problem, we have an income problem, and it’s really nobody’s fault – it’s a result of the recession and the economy.”
The funds from Measure A won’t be a cure-all for the city’s budget in the long term, however.
“We can’t just hang onto the laurels of this initiative by itself. For us to say that this is a cure-all for the city, that would be false,” Dunn said. “We are also going to be dependent on more people ‘Shopping Colusa,’ spending money locally, and helping to invigorate the local economy.”
Ramifications for the budgetary shortfall are not so distant as 2020. As it stands, there will have to be cuts in the coming year, which Dunn described as “very serious.”
“That’s not a scare tactic – that’s just a reality,” Dunn said. “
Many, if not most of those cuts will have to come from public safety, which takes up the lion’s share of the city’s budget – potentially meaning reduced essential services to city residents.
In the draft statement of support, the city specifically states that “with a yes vote, the city will be able to ensure financial sustainability to maintain police and fire services… (and) the failure of Measure A will result in mandatory cuts in city services and personnel, primarily in safety personnel which is not in the best interest of the citizens.”
“We don’t want to confuse our message,” Dunn said. “We are trying to tell the citizens of Colusa that our future looks a little grim, as far as balancing our budget and as far as revenues coming in. We want to let them know ahead of time that we need help.”
Colusa Sales Tax
While the council initially discussed having an advisory measure attached to Measure A, which would have suggested that the funds be used for public safety, the city ultimately decided against the advisory to avoid potential confusion. Instead, they have indicated on the statement of support that public safety will be the hardest hit.
“The last time we did this, we had people come up to us and say that (the advisory measure) confused them. The advisory measure passed unanimously, and lot of people that voted for it thought they were voting for the measure itself,” Dunn said.
He added that the city was hoping to bring a resolution before the council, clearly defining how they intended to use the potential new funds.
“I know that this council is not supportive of pet projects or frivolous spending. That may have been the case in the past, but it is not so with this council,” Dunn said. “It is not our intent to get this passed and hire more people. Our intent is to maintain what we have.”
A copy of the city council’s full statement of support for Measure A is available to the public at city hall. Additionally, Dunn said that he and City Finance Director Toni Benson would be available to answer questions and provide information as needed.
Ponciano said that the same goes for him.
“I plan on making myself very available to talk to people about this. My cellphone number is on my cards in city hall. I want to know the concerns, the questions, and I want to be as transparent as possible.”<