This November, Half Moon Bay voters will have the option to extend a half-cent sales tax that officials say will allow the city to continue to make vital infrastructure improvements and build a new library.
Measure O is a three-year extension of Measure J, which voters approved in November 2012 and was estimated to raise about $870,000 annually.
Opponents, however, say the city’s finances are in better shape than when the initial measure was passed and it already has too high of a tax rate.
Mayor John Mueller said much of the tax will be paid by visitors since Half Moon Bay is a tourist destination.
“If you think about Half Moon Bay, we host thousands and thousand of visitors, and they help pay for services through the sales tax. And that’s really key for the city,” Mueller said.
The city’s sales tax is currently 9.5 percent and Measure O funds would go into the city’s general fund. The money would contribute to a prioritized list of projects such as substantially funding a new library, upgrading Smith Field, improving city parks and repaving streets, according to the measure.
Since 2008, the city has made $3.5 million in cuts including eliminating its local police department by contracting with the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office, reducing full-time staff and deferring infrastructure maintenance, according to the measure.
Opponents of Measure O say the city has found ways to cut back through sharing services and the city is no longer in a dire budget deficit that warrants Half Moon Bay having one of the highest sales taxes in the state.
“Half Moon Bay has already raised the hotel tax to 12 percent. So tourists are already paying their share. So this is a sales tax ... which will impact everyone in Half Moon Bay when they shop downtown, buy a car, order things online,” Harland Harrison, chair of the Libertarian Party of San Mateo County.
Councilman Rick Kowalczyk said the tax rate is consistent with those in the area and Mueller said the increased funds improve life on the coast. Even after the election, the community would have some discretion as part of the measure is establishing an independent body to ensure the funds are spent wisely, Mueller said.
“The oversight committee monitors where this sales tax funds can go, so whether it’s street improvements or whatever projects we undertake, it will definitely be accounted for. And we’re just going to continue to make great progress with our city,” Mueller said.
Measure J was approved during the midst of a city budget deficit, deferred infrastructure maintenance and the Beachwood Development lawsuit, in which the city had a $30 million bond to settle.
Harrison said the extension is unnecessary since the lawsuit was primarily paid off through insurance.
“They’re much better off now. They’re paying off their long-term debt about 10 years early, their losses were covered by insurance and they never really needed this tax in the first place,” Harrison said. “Basically they’re spending all this money any way they want because it’s going into the general fund. They’re not required to do those projects at all.”
Councilman Rick Kowalczyk said the city outlined important community improvement projects in Measure J, and Measure O would do the same.
“Previously, we passed Measure J to allow the city, for the first time, to implement some infrastructure projects that were much needed. And we didn’t have any flexibility,” Kowalczyk said. “And we said we would do certain things and we did all of them.”
Due to Measure J, Kowalczyk said the city was able to boost tourism, repave 17 miles of its poorly degrading streets and, with the help of Measure O, can finish off the remaining 10 miles of its street maintenance project, Kowalczyk said. But most importantly, he said it will assist in building a new library.
“We’re faced with a new opportunity. Measure O will fund, what I think is the most important project in the last 30 years for the city, which is to substantially fund our new library,” Kowalczyk said.
The city’s aging library is the only one on the coast between Pacifica and Santa Cruz, Kowalczyk said. After outreach to more than 2,000 citizens, the common theme was a need for a desirable gathering place, Kowalczyk said.
This community-driven project is estimated to cost about $25 million and would include a maker lab, large meeting room and higher volume of resources and books, Kowalczyk said. The county will contribute a major portion and Measure O is currently the city’s only mechanism to largely fund its portion of the new library, Kowalczyk said.
“It’s critical that we have the ability to teach from a point of innovation and collaboration for our kids. So the library will be the hub of the community for meetings, for classes, for innovation, for all kinds of things,” Kowalczyk said. “It’s important that the community connect the dots between a new library and yes on O.”
For more information visit shapethefuture.org.
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