Williams eyes 2020 tax measure

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With a number of local agencies mulling new taxes to deal with the increasing costs of services and infrastructure, the Williams City Council may consider the March primary as a way to reach the voters first.

The Williams Finance Committee is expected to do the leg work before bringing a proposal to the full council for resolution, but City Attorney Ann Siprelle advised city officials, in her report last week, that there is little time to waste if they want to make the first 2020 election.

“(The City Council) would have to have two public meeting before Dec. 6, which is the deadline to send it to the county,” Siprelle said.

Williams voters last passed a .5 cent general sales tax increase to fund public safety by a vote of 289-244, in 2006.

This time around, officials hope to boost general fund coffers to help repair or build new roads.

While the city typically puts tax measures on the ballot during November general elections, when council members are up for election, it is not required, Siprelle said, and could be an advantage if the city wants to avoid competing with other measures.

“It’s just something to consider,” she said.

The Colusa City Council put a similar measure before their voters in 2016, but that proposal failed, 2,016 (59 percent) to 1,191 (49.9 percent).

Williams officials, however, believe their city has a better chance with the voters because of its uniqueness. Unlike Colusa, Williams has an interstate highway (I-5) that attracts transient traffic to fuel stations and motels, the largest generator of local sales tax revenue, said City Manager Frank Kennedy.

“Most taxable items purchased in the city of Williams are not purchased by local people,” Kennedy said. “Gasoline and food purchases (restaurants) are made mostly by people getting off the freeway.”

City officials said that if they move forward with a proposal for a .5-to-1-cent sale tax increase, it would be placed on the ballot as a general tax, which would require only 50-percent-plus-one affirmative votes to pass. A special tax earmarked for a specific purpose, such as public safety or road improvements, would require approval by two-thirds of the voters, making a special tax initiative risky.

That’s not to say the city would spend the money on purposes other than what they intend.
“Roads would probably be the number one thing we would spend it on,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy said the ad hoc committee could also recommend the City Council wait for the 2020 November presidential election, but that he agreed with Siprelle that the city would have a better chance in March.

“It is something that we should explore,” he said.

Kennedy said if the committee recommends going forward with a measure in the March primary, the City Council would hold a special meeting in early November in addition to their regular meeting on Nov. 20.

So far on the March ballot is a statewide measure asking voters to approve the issuance of $15 billion in bonds for school and college facilities.

In November 2020, voters will be asked to decide on a state-wide proposal to require certain commercial and industrial properties, except those zoned as commercial agriculture, to be taxed based on their market value, rather than their purchase price, and dedicate the increased revenue to local governments (60 percent) and school districts (40 percent).

California Democrats support the measure. The California Chamber of Commerce, the California Tax Association, and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association oppose the measure.

To address the local ambulance shortage, a special district tax is currently being pitched countywide for the 2022 midterm election. ■