During its Aug. 15 meeting, the Hollister City Council unanimously agreed to place on the November ballot the continuation of a one-cent transaction and sales tax originally passed by voters as Measure E. The ordinance will be placed on the ballot as Measure W, which, if passed by voters, will extend the tax an additional 20 years from the date Measure E expires on March 30, 2018.
Hollister resident Tim Burns asked if he understood correctly that Measure E was for five years, compared to Measure W, which would be for 20 years. He said that while he does support Measure W because the community desperately needs the funds, he doesn’t believe the community has an appetite for additional taxes, as evidenced by the recent failure of Measure P.
“I think it’s incumbent upon the community to be educated well that this is not a new tax; it’s the continuation of a tax. However, it’s an increase from five years to 20 years, and I think that is significant,” he said. “If it is passed, I’d like to recommend to this council that you create an oversight committee to monitor how the money is spent. In addition, have that committee do an annual report to the community, as well as the different departments report on that.”
Burns said he searched online to see if he could find information about the tax on the city’s website.
“I think if it’s not there that I should not have to do a public records request to find the information,” he said. “It should be published and readily available and visible because if the community was educated and saw that, they would overwhelmingly support this measure.”
Bill Avera, city manager, said there is an oversight committee connected to Measure E, and it will remain in place until it expires in 2018. He said the same committee could continue if the council desires, but a new committee could also be appointed.
“Absolutely, there will be an oversight committee as part of Measure W,” Avera assured him and the audience. “And thank you for making everyone aware that this is not a new tax. This is something completely different. It’s extending the sales tax that is currently in place.”
Hollister resident Marty Richman said he supports the measure because the city has no other choice. He reiterated that Hollister has the lowest sales tax of any of 12 nearby cities.
“It makes an enormous difference to us, and that’s the point,” he said. “If the citizens would work it backwards to see how much more sales you would have to have to generate that much tax is enormous. It would be better if we could generate it in other ways, but places like San Luis Obispo generate $6 or $7 million just in transient and occupancy taxes from their hotels. Monterey, a city that has fewer people than we have, generates $14 million or more. We generate something like $700,000, which isn’t much, so we have to generate money somewhere.”
Richman said he would like to see how much taxes are paid by people who are just driving through on their way to Hollister Hills or the Pinnacles National Park.
“We do a little disservice to the public by not publishing those numbers,” he said. “They would be surprised by how much of a percentage of that tax comes from outside sources.”
Robert Bernosky, who is a candidate for the school board, said even though he is a Republican who normally opposes taxes and bond measures, the question was, “Are residents getting good value from tax dollars?”
“We absolutely are,” he said, “and we need to make sure that we continue that level of service. I’m embarrassed to say this, but on weekends I listen to a police scanner and I’m in awe of what our police and fire departments do. All the calls they go to and you hear on the radio the seriousness that they take.”
Bernosky went on to say the water quality was good and the sewer system seems to be working well. He did say, however, that 20 years for a tax was too long.
“The economy will change and it might make sense to roll that back,” he said. “The local Republican Party got behind Measure P. Sadly, it did not pass. Somebody may come to us and ask if we support this. Rob Bernosky, the individual, says this city, the taxpayers, shoppers, they are getting their value for the money.”
The ordinance to place Measure W on the ballot was passed 5-0.