Voters in Williams on Tuesday will decide the fate of a ballot measure that could add a significant amount of revenue to city coffers.
Measure B, if passed, would authorize an increase in city sales tax from 0.5 percent to 1 percent. City officials said the estimated $600,000 annual revenue that would be raised – mostly from Interstate 5 travelers – would provide additional funding for general city services, including street maintenance and repair, and recreation for youth and seniors.
“This measure will allow us to get to the next level and get things done that need to get done,” said City Administrator Frank Kennedy, on last week’s episode of “jussed press’d,” a podcast of the Pioneer Review. “If you have visited Williams recently, it’s no surprise that we need to improve our roads.”
City officials said the tax increase that Williams residents would pay on taxable goods (one cent more for every $2 spent) is a better solution for investing in Williams infrastructure than a voter-approved bond or bank loan, which would cost residents millions of dollars in interest.
Councilman Sajit Singh said he understood that the pandemic has slowed the economy, but during the Great Depression, the citizens of San Francisco agreed to a tax lien on their property to build the Golden Gate Bridge, and they were rewarded with prosperity seen almost nowhere else in the world.
“I know we are not building anything along those lines but it just goes to show that in difficult times, people step up and make an investment in their community or city,” said Councilman Sajit Singh. “To me, this (measure) is an investment.”
Singh said it has been difficult gauging the level of support among residents for the tax, including business owners, but said he was hopeful voters will decide it is important not only for the city to fix its streets, sidewalks, and roads, but to find a way to share the financial burden of those repairs with visitors and travelers, who also use city infrastructure when they are in town.
City officials said Williams’ sales tax revenue is largely from gasoline sales, meaning the tax burden would be shared by many people, mostly those who stop off Interstate 5 for gasoline, fast food, and restaurants, which make up 95 percent of sales tax revenue collected in the city.
“I see it as an added value tax,” Singh said.
On the downside, Williams residents would also pay the additional tax on gasoline and taxable goods. Also, only a simple majority of votes (50 percent plus one) is required for approval.
The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association opposes local sales tax increases on California ballots in 2020, because they believe such tax increases disproportionately impact lower income residents.
They also feel that without authorizing a special tax for a designated purpose, which would require the two-third voter approval threshold to pass, then the new revenue stream passed by a simple majority may simply just free up funding for salary and benefit increases for public employees.
“Californians still want good schools and other public services that government is supposed to deliver, but they continue to perceive, with ample justification, that they are not getting the services for which they are paying,” opined Jon Coupal, president of the HJTA, in September. “Many are angry at the arrogance and overreach of public-sector unions that are making ridiculous demands for everything including, of course, more money at a time when private-sector workers are struggling.”
While officials said $600,000 more in revenue annually is not enough for the city to replace the city streets and roads entirely, the money would allow increment work or go a long way as leverage for additional money from the state.
At last week’s City Council meeting, Councilman John Troughton said he would like to see the city consider using the new revenue, if the measure passes, to invest in road equipment and training so that public works employees could do some of the roadwork themselves. That would save the city from having to use contractors that must pay prevailing wages, he said.
Kennedy said if the measure does not pass, then the city will remain at the status quo. ♣