Millbrae voters will get a chance to decide through an all-mail ballot if they want to renew a fire suppression assessment tax set to expire in May.
The fire suppression tax was first passed in 2004 and extended in 2009. It currently brings in $1.2 million annually and the new tax, if passed by a majority of voters, is estimated to bring in $1.5 million annually for 10 years. The renewal proposes an annual tax of $174.83 per single family home, and for each dwelling unit for multi-family parcels with three or more dwellings in the amount of $125.19. For commercial uses, the tax is based on the number of rooms in the hotel, number of beds in various residential care facilities and the land use/building square footage for other non-residential land uses in the various amounts designated in the engineer’s report approved by the council Monday.
The vote would be conducted by a mail-in ballot sent out in March. The ballot is intended for return in April, said Mayor Wayne Lee.
Councilwoman Anne Oliva said the assessment is nothing new and it’s something the city needs to continue.
“Everybody needs to buckle down,” Oliva said. “At this time today, we need to get this assessment back on board and continue to have public safety in Millbrae.”
Vice Mayor Robert Gottschalk agreed.
“It’s extremely important we proceed with this,” Gottschalk said. “It’s something that’s been in effect for 10 years and I hope property owners understand the need. I look forward to that being successful.”
Millbrae voters originally passed the $144 annual fee for fire services on single-family homes in 2004 as one solution to address the city’s budget crisis, which began in 2001. It was extended in 2009 and the tax brings in about $1.2 million per year to the general fund, according to a staff report.
Resources have been dwindling, City Manager Marcia Raines previously said. She said that the city still needs to pay for employee benefits and that the city’s streets are at the bottom of state and countywide levels of sustainability.
“If we face an emergency, we wouldn’t have the funds,” Raines said. “A structural deficit will continue to grow, with staff reductions, consolidations and combined code enforcement. We are proficient in sustainability programs, but we are a 65-year-old city and have facilities, roads, what’s under the roads, that are aging.”
The city has implemented more efficiencies, such as adopting shared services with nearby fire agencies. Still, these won’t be enough to sustain the city financially, she noted.
“If it expires, there will be financial impacts,” said Councilman Reuben Holober.
Meanwhile, Councilwoman Marge Colapietro said the number one issue of concern for residents and business people is public safety services.
“To keep up with the public safety services, we need to generate revenues,” she said. “Costs have increased over the last 10 years. There are challenging times we are going to face and we need to make sure we are able to sustain ourselves during those hard times. It’s not good to spend money without revenue generation. We can’t just live just for today, we need to maintain public services for the long term.”
The city set a date for a public hearing 7 p.m. April 22 at City Hall Chambers, 621 Magnolia Ave. to tabulate the ballots. Ballots are mailed to each property owner within the city a minimum of 45 days prior to the public hearing. If the majority of the property owners who return their assessment ballots are opposed to the assessment, with the votes weighted by assessment amount, the assessment could not go forward. The new assessment would go into effect in June.
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