visalia – Visalia voters will decide whether or not to tax themselves at the highest rate in Tulare County this November.
The City of Visalia’s half-cent sales tax increase, Measure N, would increase the city’s sales tax to 8.75%, which would equal the City of Dinuba as the highest in Tulare County. The measure will read on the Nov. 8 ballot as follows: “To provide funding protected from Sacramento; maintain/improve essential city services including police, fire/9-1-1 emergency/ medical aide response, gang prevention programs/ neighborhood police patrols; maintain streets; reduce criminal street activity; attract/retain businesses/jobs; address homelessness; maintain youth/senior programs, and other services, shall the City of Visalia increase the sales tax by ½-¢, providing approximately $10,800,000 annually, until ended by voters; requiring audits, citizen’s oversight and all funds used locally?”
The wording of the measure and the accountability measure put in place to ensure the money is spent properly, were approved by the Visalia City Council at its Aug. 1 meeting.
If approved by a simple majority, 50 percent plus one vote, the ballot measure is estimated to generate $118 million over the next 10 years. The council also adopted an Initial Spending Plan outlining how the money will be spent over the first 10 years. Thirty-six percent of the money was earmarked for police, a third for roads, 15 percent for fire, 10 percent for maintenance, 5 percent for parks and recreation and 1 percent for a reserve fund.
About $43 million is planned to hire 30 police officers, 30 patrol cars and 12 professional staff. A little more than $39 million will be applied towards road rehabilitation and cape and crack seals. Seventeen million is earmarked for two fire squad cars, eight firefighters, to refurbish Station 51 and the Lovers Lane Station, an air truck and a ladder truck. Just under $5.5 million will pay for two park maintenance employees, an urban forest employee and a recreation employee as well as maintenance for trailways, buildings and parks. About $1.2 million will go into an economic uncertainty, or “rainy day,” fund in case there is an economic downturn, $6 million for community projects, $3.3 million for building maintenance and $2.3 million for youth programs.
Under the accountability plan, the council agreed to have an 11-member oversight board comprised of two members of the citizens advisory committee, five members appointed by each council member and four members representing the Tulare-Kings Hispanic or Visalia Chamber of Commerce, the Economic Development Council, Downtown Alliance and the Tulare County Association of Realtors.
Other accountability measures included: requiring council adopt an initial funding plan for the use of the sales tax proceeds; requiring the city manager prepare a new implementation plan to be presented first to an oversight board and then the city council; requiring two public hearings before the adoption of a new spending plan; and, requiring that actual expenditures be audited by an independent auditor.
If approved, the sales tax increase would automatically continue each year and only come up for review every eight years. It would require a 4/5 vote of the City Council to suspend the increase but voters could use the referendum process to put the suspension of sunset of the tax up to a vote of the citizens.
While Visalia’s sales tax would be the highest, the city is also one of the few in Tulare County without a utility users tax (UUT). Tulare, Porterville, Dinuba and Lindsay all have UUT measures of 6 or 7% in addition to local sales tax measures of 0.5 or 0.75%.