Advocates claim a sales tax in South San Francisco is necessary to raise more than $200 million, which will be spent on fixing aging infrastructure, as well as potentially building a new Civic Center, but opponents say it is too burdensome.
Residents are being asked to support Measure W, a half-cent sales tax slated to last 30 years, on an all-mail ballot, due Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3, which is estimated to generate as much as $210 million should it receive a majority of voter approval.
The tax revenue would be spent to address infrastructure maintenance needs postponed during the Great Recession, as well as improving the city’s outdated public safety offices and other service facilities, officials claim.
The Municipal Services Building, at 33 Arroyo Drive, is no longer equipped to serve as the home to police and fire departments, plus accommodate the demand of housing City Council chambers and a variety of other public services, said Vice Mayor Mark Addiego.
Should the tax pass, the money could be used to build a new police and fire station, as well as library and recreation center and pay for about $18 million in deferred street maintenance and pothole repair. The city does not currently have a local sales tax in place.
Addiego said even as the economic health of the city has improved in recent years, due in part to improved sales, hotel and property tax revenue, there is not enough money to finance the substantial cost of the needs set to be addressed by Measure W.
“Every year we can balance the budget, but when it comes to these big ticket items, we need another way to pay for them,” he said.
But Mark Hinkle, head of the Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association, claimed officials should work harder to address the demands through the city budget, rather than to look to taxpayers for additional assistance.
He said since the maintenance has not been addressed through the city budget, he assumes it is not to be considered a priority, and claims residents should not face additional taxes to finance projects which are not a top concern of officials.
He also alleged officials have purposefully postponed maintaining the buildings and infrastructure, with an eye to eventually asking taxpayers to finance their reconstruction.
“They could have funded these maintenance repairs, but those chose to fatten their pensions and salaries,” he said.
City Manager Mike Futrell disagreed, and said the city has been responsible in its fiscal management, which is a reason why residents should feel confident in supporting the tax measure.
He said he believed the tax would be the least impactful way to help residents address the needs of aging infrastructure, which the city could not afford to maintain when revenue dipped with the economy.
Roughly half of the revenue generated tax would come from purchases by visitors to South San Francisco, said Futrell, and the tax would not be applied to groceries or services such as auto repair.
And as the tax money would be spent to offer services residents have called for in the past, Futrell said, the onus is now on voters to approve a source of revenue to supply them.
“They have the ultimate decision and need to ask themselves ‘am I willing to put my money where my mouth is?’ I think they will,” he said.
Hinkle though said he believes the city should trim from its budget to make more space to address the needs of residents.
The tax hike would not be necessary, said Addiego, if the city still had access to funds from its Redevelopment Agency, which was among all those in California disbanded by the state in 2011.
“I don’t think we’d be here if we still had redevelopment,” he said.
But in light of the considerable needs of the police and fire station at the Municipal Services Building, as well as the emergency command center housed there, the tax revenue is required to help keep residents safe, said retired deputy police chief Mike Brosnan.
The building is not seismically sound, which could be a tremendous source of concern for police and firefighters housed at the building who would be needed to protect South San Francisco residents in the case of a natural disaster, such as a massive earthquake, said Brosnan.
And beyond the structural integrity of the building, it is no longer fit to address the demands of a current police and fire department, he said, as a few cells are being repurposed to hold evidence and the locker rooms for female officers are entirely inadequate.
The challenges posed by the building also create an obstacle for the department when trying to attract new officers to join the force in South San Francisco, said Brosnan.
As police departments are competing to for new hires, South San Francisco’s antiquated facilities put the city at a disadvantage when attempting to lure new officers who are also being offered state of the art amenities at other agencies.
“Retention and recruitment are difficult on the housing and facilities side,” he said.
But according to Hinkle, officials should have been more vigilant in managing their money to address the concerns proposed to be financed through the tax measure, before asking voters to approve a fee hike.
And considering claims that current buildings are in a state of disrepair due to deferred maintenance, which Hinkle attributed to poor decision-making, he questioned whether South San Francisco officials should be trusted with revenue from the proposed tax measure.
He asked, “If they let maintenance slide over all these years, do we want to reward that bad policy?”
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