The Williams City Council voted unanimously last week to ask the electorate for a .5 percent (half cent) sales tax increase in the Nov. 3 election.
The council previously considered a tax measure for the March primary, prior to the economic downturn from the COVID-19 pandemic, but they didn’t muster a unanimous vote to declare a state of emergency.
Such a declaration is not needed to put forth the measure in the general election, when voters also select members of the council, said City Attorney Ann Sirprelle.
Sirprelle said voters last approved a half cent local sales tax increase in 2006 and voted again in 2012 to make it permanent.
The current California sales tax is 7.25 percent of taxable purchases, although most California cities and counties have added local taxes. Sales tax in most California cities range from 7.50 to 10.25 percent.
Williams’ current tax rate is 7.75 percent, the same as Orland, which also has a truck stop where most sales taxes are collected. Corning, with two major travel centers, also has a 7.75 percent tax rate.
Only Colusa and Willows, both at 7.25 percent, have not implemented local sales taxes, although officials of those cities have not ruled out measures for the November election due to the current economic crisis.
Williams officials said at their June 18 meeting that the primary need for the tax increase is for maintenance and repair of streets, the city’s drainage system, along with the need for curbs, gutters and sidewalks, although the tax could be used for any city purpose, Sirprelle said. City Hall and offices are also aging and require repair and renovation, but a lack of funding has resulted in those projects being deferred.
A half cent sales tax increase would provide about $450,000 in annual revenue under the current economic conditions, and more as travel and economic activity return to normal, said Finance Director Rex Greenbaun.
“If the economy comes back up and gas prices go back up to where they were a while ago, then we should see (projected revenue) going back up to $600,000,”Greenbaun said.
City Councilman John Troughton said a sales tax increase is needed for the city to keep up with inflation on construction, which eats up the annual state allotment of SB 1 funds for road improvement projects.
“We have to go on our own dollar or we’re not going to be able to do anything,” Troughton said.
Meanwhile, the increase will help fill the gap in the budget as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, estimated to be about $250,000 in the current budget and $800,000 in the 2020-21 budget.
Williams Mayor Alfred Sellers Jr. said putting the measure on the ballot is just the first step in the process.
“It will be up to the citizens to vote,” he said.
Sellers said while a half cent increase will not have a major financial impact on Williams residents, the increased revenue to the city would benefit them in the long run.
“It’s not that much of a difference for the people, but it’s going to help us in this economy,” Sellers said. ■