TRUCKEE, Calif. — A recent poll suggests strong interest among Truckee residents for self-taxation to support local trails.
San Francisco-based consulting firm TBWB Strategies found that 67 percent of 564 registered Truckee voters surveyed this fall would vote in favor of a quarter-cent trails sales tax measure if it were up for election.
For the measure to pass, it would need a two-thirds majority — similar to the super majority needed in past Truckee ballots, such as the town’s Measure V sales tax for roadway maintenance.
Even when those surveyed were given potential arguments against such a measure — i.e. it’s not the right time for a new tax — 65 percent said they would be in favor, which falls within the poll’s 3.9 percent margin of error.
“All in all, I think the results are encouraging,” Charles Heath, a partner with TBWB Strategies, told Truckee Town Council on Tuesday night. “Many communities where we’re conducting surveys right now are finding that two-thirds vote on a tax isn’t in the cards. That’s not the case here.”
When voters were asked how they would want funds used, the top answer (89 percent) was completion of the Truckee River Legacy Trail.
Providing safe routes to schools and maintaining trails to a high standard were the next favored choices, respectively at 82 percent and 80 percent.
“I think the question here is less to do with if you should go to the ballot; it more of a question, when you should go to the ballot and how you fine tune some of the key features of the measure to maximize support ” Heath said.
In its analysis — which cost the town $33,000 — TBWB Strategies looked at three possible election dates: the June 3, 2014, primary; Nov. 4, 2014, general election; or a special election in 2015.
A challenge with June is the town would need to meet a Jan. 29, 2014, deadline with the Nevada County Registrar of Voters.
“By doing what I would call the June scramble, is there a chance that we lose because it’s too fast and too thrown together?” asked council member Carolyn Wallace Dee.
A challenge with November is the measure could end up competing with a potential Tahoe Truckee Unified School District bond measure to fund facility updates, a situation Heath advised against.
“What that does is it forces taxpayers to pick and choose between well-intentioned, well-meaning, important local agencies,” he said. “Typically, what that does is it makes it difficult for both agencies to reach the super majority levels of support that are required for success.”
Wallace Dee and council member Joan deRyk Jones voiced not being in favor of a November election for that reason.
As for a 2015 special election, Wallace Dee brought up funding concerns, considering such an election could cost anywhere from $20,000 to $40,000.
Delaying an election further could have challenges of not knowing what the national climate will be in terms of the economy and job security, among other issues, Heath said.
Council directed staff to conduct outreach with community stakeholders before the Jan. 14, 2014, meeting, to help determine if the town should pursue a June election.
“I’m not sold on June, but I don’t want to let go of it yet because I feel that we could be letting it (support) slip through our hands, basically,” deRyk Jones said.
Until now, construction of local trails has been driven mainly by the town’s ability to compete for and receive grant funding, thereby limiting progress in completing trail projects. Town staff does not believe that is a sustainable, long-term method to fund trails.
Additionally, maintenance costs have been low due to the town’s trails being relatively new, according to the town. However, as they get older and more trail are constructed, maintenance costs will rise.
A quarter-cent sales tax is estimated to generate $1 million annually in dedicated funding for trail related activities, according to the town.
TBWB Strategies specializes in assisting public agencies that “will be forced in the near future to place a ballot measure for additional funding before their constituents,” according to its website, tbwb.com.
The firm has conducted surveys for the town in the past, as well as for TTUSD and the Truckee-Donner Recreation & Park District.
In 2010, TBWB Strategies was hired to determine the support among TDRPD voters for a joint trails-performing arts-aquatic ballot measure that never materialized.
According to previous reports, top recreation priority at that time, according to TBWB, was for trails and open space, followed by performing arts, second, and aquatics, third.