The Hollister City Council voted unanimously at its Aug. 1 meeting to adopt a resolution to place an ordinance on the Nov. 8 ballot to extend the one-cent Transaction and Use Tax (Measure E) for 20 years. The resolution also stipulated that the County Registrar of Voters would conduct the election, as well as guarantee payment to the county for the cost of the election. Having voted 5-0, the council met the first requirement of a two-thirds vote to adopt the resolution and the first reading of the ordinance to be placed on the Nov. 8 ballot.
Before taking the vote, Bill Avera, city manager, explained that the Transaction and Use Tax would expire on March 30, 2018, and could result in a loss of $4.5 million in annual revenues to the general fund budget, or roughly 20 percent of the fund. He emphasized, by definition, that the ordinance was a “no tax increase continuation measure,” which would continue to be administered by the State Board of Equalization.
“Our general fund is predominantly made up of sales and property taxes, and a few other franchise fees, so this is a significant portion of what we use to cover our public safety costs, which run about 67 percent of our total general fund budget,” Avera said.
Avera explained that a number of months ago the city commissioned a poll to determine the community’s priorities. He said the poll revealed that most people ranked public safety as their top priority and that the city’s ability to recruit and keep police officers and firefighters would be increasingly difficult if the funds were lost because voters did not pass the sales tax extension. If that were to happen, he also said there would be a need to cut anti-drug and anti-gang task forces, as well as maintaining parks and other quality-of-life projects.
During the public comments, Karen Percival, who is a member of the Parks and Recreation Commission, but spoke as a private citizen, urged the council to support the resolution, commenting on the negative impact the loss of revenue would have on city parks.
“I’m concerned if this tax extension is not placed on the ballot, there might not be sufficient monies in the general fund to qualify for matching grants that would hinder future improvements to our parks,” she said. “I would hate for a lack of funding to be the reason the parks return to the way they were a few years ago.”
Hollister resident Marty Richman also supported the tax extension, telling the council that he had conducted an analysis of the sales tax rates of 15 surrounding “shopping districts,” and found that Hollister’s was the lowest of all.
“Shopping here is a bargain, if sales tax is your thing,” he said. “For most people, it’s not their thing; it’s safety and how the community is operating. People want a safe place to live and to feel good about their city. We look around and say ‘this needs to be done,’ and the bad news is it all costs a lot of money. Could we survive (not having the tax)? Yeah, we could, but you would pay the penalty in your everyday life.”
Richman encouraged the council to try to explain to people what the tax extension means to them because, “This ballot is going to be stuffed full of things and this one will be all the way at the end because it’s a city item, so you need to work hard to differentiate this so people will vote for it.”
Councilman Victor Gomez took a few moments to thank the staff for its work on the resolution and noted how valuable the passage of the ordinance would be to the city.
“I’m sure that over 70 percent of it will benefit the firefighters and police officers,” he said. “It’s valuable that we move forward with a general tax that will benefit all of our city departments. I think this council has shown fiscal restraint and that’s one thing that’s important, that you guys continue to carry on. I’m fully supportive of this and look forward to volunteering and helping on the campaign, as well. It’s important that we move together as a community and that we retain the current services.”
Councilwoman Mickie Luna thanked Percival and Richman for their support.
“I encourage city residents at large to think about how it would help to continue the services,” she said. “I hope others are encouraged to come forward in support. The City of Hollister needs funding and it’s up to all of us. It’s very good to have the input from the community, especially on something like this that’s so positive for everybody and every department.”
Councilman Raymond Friend said the tax extension is important in order to continue services as they currently exist.
“We’re not asking for more. We’re asking to keep the budget to where we can keep those actions that we have now,” he said. “If you want the police or fire to respond in a reasonable time, to continue with the work we’ve done with the parks, to continue to do the maintenance we can do on the streets, all are in jeopardy if this doesn’t happen. We’re not asking to feather the nest; we’re trying to keep the services that we have now.”
Councilman Karson Klauer said he also supported the resolution and described the 1 percent sales tax as the difference between surviving and thriving as a city.
“If this doesn’t happen we have essentially a year and a half before it changes, but the mindset of the council is going to change the next day, because we have to start preparing for it,” he said. “Many of the quality-of-life projects — you can kiss them goodbye because they’re not going to happen without that 1 percent. Measure P failed and we don’t have a new source for the roads. This is where it’s going to come from. It comes down to do we want to thrive as a city or survive as a city? It’s not going to be perfect. It never is, and I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of people with genuine concerns and criticisms, and we’ve got to work through that.”
Mayor Ignacio Velazquez said the city has gone from struggling to survive to investing in the community.
“Now is the time we can keep doing positive things,” he said. “It’s not asking for an increase and it’s lower than any rates around us. We do need this help to keep going and we don’t want to go back to when we were struggling to provide services. We hope the voters will appreciate what’s happening in our community.”