Exeter council takes step toward sales tax

Deferred needs in the general fund such as aging police cars drive need for increased sales tax discussion, potential vote next November

By Paul Myers

EXETER – After voting to raise water and sewer rates, the Exeter City Council began broaching the idea of a sales tax measure. 

At their Dec. 10 meeting the council said they want to move forward with a measure to increase revenue in the general fund. City manager, Adam Ennis, said that certain expenses are being neglected.

“Right now there a lot of deferred needs we can’t keep ignoring,” Ennis said.

He pointed to police vehicles as an example. Some cars are reaching 200,000 miles, a typical benchmark for replacement. Another example much more noticeable to the public is Exeter’s roads. A road condition report by company IMS noted that only 12% of the city’s roads are considered good, 4% are considered very good and 1% are considered excellent. Just over 25% of the city’s roads are considered fair, approximately 33% of the roads are considered marginal, 24% are considered poor and 2% are considered very poor.

“My only concern is that it kind of feels like a double-whammy,” councilman David Hails said. “We just raised the rates in water and sewer…but I don’t want to keep kicking the can down the road.”

On the outset the city would expect to have the measure presented to voters by next November’s election. Until then the city council will develop details, spending plan and future oversight based on the council’s discussion and recommendations.

The city will prepare and submit ballot language. The text of the measure will be based on a community survey, and must be submitted by next August. The city will reach out to the community through informational staff presentations and materials. During discussions council members decided they would like to poll the community through committee.

In order to get a larger view of what the community wants, mayor Mary Waterman-Philpot suggested a large committee of residents from each of the five districts and stakeholders such as service groups and businesses throughout Exeter. 

“I think we would get a little more diversity that way,” Waterman-Philpot said.

Hails added that he believes the community will vote in favor of a sales tax. For now Exeter has the lowest sales tax of all eight cities in Tulare County. Where Exeter has a 7.75% sales tax all other cities have between 8.5% and 9.25%. 

If the measure passes next November, the city will begin to realize their added revenue by April 2021. By June 2021, the city would also develop their 2021-2022 budget and capital improvement programs. Ennis added that if the sales tax measure does not pass, staff will review future anticipated revenue and costs versus services between December 2020 and January 2021. 

According to the city’s financial policy, by February 2021 the staff will bring options to the council for balances budgets by reducing or eliminating costs and services. Lowering costs would give the city the capability of covering deferred needs. 

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