The Watsonville City Council looked at a half-cent sales tax which, if approved by voters in the Nov. 8 election, would fund city parks, after-school and anti-gang programs and road repair of city streets.
The council, on June 28, will consider placing the “community investment transaction and use tax” on the ballot.
It would put the city’s sales tax at the state cap of 9.75% if approved, go into effect immediately after the election and be in place until voters repeal it. The hike would generate an estimated $4 million annually for the city’s general fund.
The tax would not cover essential purchases such as food and medication. An oversight committee would report to the council. The council did not take action on the information-only item.
City staff brought the tax forward after a poll of 486 likely voters showed that 68% would support it, said City Manager Pro-Tem Tamara Vides.
That same poll listed roads and essential infrastructure as the top funding priority, with 85% saying they want investment here. Other areas of concern are maintaining the city’s trail system and providing safe places for kids to play, as well as after-school programs, senior programs and parks.
“Our park system has been underfunded for a number of years,” Vides said. “Some of our parks are starting to show their age, and they are hard to be maintained to a good standard.”
Vides said the idea for the tax comes as Watsonville reels from the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I can summarize it as a lack of sustainable funding that is available to support services that create a vibrant and resilient community,” Vides said.
Several council members expressed concern that the revenue is spent on what is promised to the voters. Vides said that the specific allocations are up to the council and can be changed with a council vote.
Councilmember Jimmy Dutra said that, despite the poll, passage of the tax is not a given. He pointed to Santa Cruz’s Measure F, a half-cent sales tax on the June 6 ballot that is behind, with 50.89% voting no.
“That could be an indication of what November is going to be because of the inflation and families really suffering,” he said. “Have we considered this? Are we premature? Is this the right time?”
Administrative Services Department Director Cindy Czerwin acknowledged that new taxes could burden residents in a low-income community but said that Watsonville has fewer services to offer its residents than the City of Santa Cruz. This problem can be eased with the tax.
“I think it’s worth putting it to the voters to let them decide whether they want more services for our city or they don’t,” she said. “We’re saying that if you want more, this is a way to get there.”
Mayor Pro Tem Eduardo Montesino said that any new tax would face opposition.
“It’s never a good time to raise taxes,” he said. “But this is an opportunity for us to invest in our own community. I think the argument is, why wouldn’t we put this forward to the voters?”