Sales tax increase for road repairs in SLT could be voted on in November | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Sales tax increase for road repairs in SLT could be voted on in November

A measure seeking to raise the sales tax by a half percent in South Lake Tahoe, with revenue going to road rehabilitation, could be on the ballot this November.

At the May 2 City Council meeting a consulting firm presented the results of a city-commissioned poll designed to determine the chances of the measure passing should it be placed on the ballot.

True North Research, an Encinitas-based firm focused on survey research, concluded that approximately 66 percent of the random sample would vote in favor of the measure, 31 percent would not, and 3 percent were unsure.

Council unanimously voted to have city staff move forward with wording the ballot measure. Once completed, council would vote once more to decide if the measure goes on the ballot.

Last November, residents voted down a half-percent increase in sales tax. The measure included an advisory vote, which allowed residents to indicate where they would like to see the money spent: roads, housing or city facilities. Though the increase did not pass, the advisory vote showed that nearly 68 percent were in favor of that money going to roads.

This time around the proposed sales-tax increase would be a special tax, which requires 66.7 percent in favor to pass, but would keep the money from going into the general fund and not allow future councils to change where the estimated $2.5 million generated annually would be spent.

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"I don't like raising taxes. But I like this particular measure because it dedicates those funds … strictly to roads. Period," said Councilmember Tom Davis. "Last time it was on the ballot we saw that it polled very high, but some of the comments I got were 'Oh, it goes in the general fund' and 'a future council can change it.' A future council cannot change this. This is in law. I think this is very important."

The sales tax rate in the city of South Lake Tahoe dropped from 8 percent to 7.75 percent this year, so the half-percent increase would bring it up to 8.25 percent. It does not apply to medicine or food.

Former Councilmember JoAnn Conner, who maintains that the city should be able to find a way to fund a roads program without raising taxes, spoke out against the idea.

"There are a lot of citizens in this community that are wondering why, when we said no with an overwhelming majority less than six months ago, this is coming back on the ballot," said Conner.

Mayor Austin Sass said that there is no money in the budget to sustain a long-term road rehabilitation plan. Freeing up funds would require making more cuts in police, fire and public works departments, he added.

Leon Malmed, chair of the Tahoe Keys Property Owners Association road committee, expressed his support of the proposed special tax to council. He said his committee has set a goal of raising $50,000 to go toward marketing efforts for the measure.

"Yes, this ballot was [voted down] six months ago, that is true, but it was very complex, and it was not for money dedicated solely for the repair as well as the rebuilding of our roads," said Malmed.

"I have a dream of not falling off my bike because I hit a crack or getting hit by a car that is dodging a pothole."

Jerry Bindel of the South Lake Tahoe Lodging Association said the association is in full support of the tax this time around.

"I think the major reason is because the funds are purely dedicated towards the road improvements. They cannot go to the general fund, they can not go to anything but road improvements," said Bindel, adding that it is important for the future of the tourism industry to have better roads.

At present, there is a backlog of $41 million in road maintenance, according to Jim Marino, assistant public works director. The city has not had a dedicated funding source for roads since it was incorporated over 50 years ago.

The city must decide before July 5 if the measure will be voted on in November.

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