City counting on Measure Z |

City counting on Measure Z

Voters may need an A-to-Z crash course to decide on the city of South Lake Tahoe’s latest ballot measure.

A cross-section of registered voters coming in and out of the Main Post Office off Al Tahoe Boulevard Thursday said they had never heard of the two-part initiative on the El Dorado County ballot designed to gain revenue for the city through two tax increases.

One of Measure Z’s tax hikes to be voted on Nov. 5 concerns motel guests, with a sunset clause at the end of four years. The other raises business license fees.

Of those who had heard of the measure, the reactions were mixed — in more ways than one

In addition to the proponents, most voters were unenthused over the idea of raising taxes.

“Government has gotten out of hand. I’ve been watching what has happened over the years — government has increased and business has decreased. Tourists will just say we’ll go somewhere else. Economics 1A will tell you that,” said Tom Fields, a real estate broker in town for 35 years.

When asked if he would change his mind if he felt it would save the city from an economic downfall, he said “he wouldn’t believe it.”

Others seemed more receptive to the city’s perceived plight.

“At first glance, I don’t want more fees to pay. But I guess it’s whatever the market will bear. I wouldn’t want to hurt business, but everything costs more now. Price increases seem inevitable,” said Jim Breisacher, a South Lake Tahoe contractor.

“I guess we have to do it. The city needs the money,” said Hap Halliday, who runs a ceramics business out of his South Shore home. Halliday’s business fees would go up, but he said he’s willing to absorb such an increase to help keep the city more financially solvent.

The city has endured a budget shortfall over the last few years, using the California Public Employee Retirement System funds — which will soon be unavailable — and reserves. This undesignated, unreserved account used by cities for emergencies will diminish to $1.2 million through this 2002-03 fiscal year that started Oct. 1.

Mayor Brooke Laine figured the city has one more year left to use these funds. It expects to receive a windfall in revenue from the Marriott redevelopment complex at Park Avenue come 2004, but that seems like the distant future in the financial world.

“The destiny of the community is before the citizens. Either we cut services or we gain revenue,” Laine said, simplifying the choices surrounding Measure Z.

At the very least, most voters walking out of the post office agreed they would read up on Measure Z, which seeks to raise the transient occupancy tax by $1 to $1.50 on top of the 10 percent guests are charged per room, per night. Properties in the redevelopment zone charge 12 percent.

The $1.50 per room rate would apply if “catastrophic” budget circumstances arise, such as drastic state funding cutbacks.

The initiative also attempts to double the business and professions license fees as well as the cap on those rates from $1,500 to $3,000. An example would be a grocer that annually pays the former amount on the high-end of the scale. On the low end, a mail-order business pays $30, the city reported Thursday.

Businesses from flower stands to banks would pay $1.04 for every $1,000 in gross receipts. Advertising firms, pawnbrokers and property managers would chock up $1.56. Amusement parks and building contractors would shell out $2.08. Accountants and attorneys would turn over $2.60 to the city.

If it passes by a simple majority, proponents from a variety of civic groups claim the projected $1.3 million calculated to be raised will maintain core services for the city as in police and fire programs and personnel. Another $450,000 is estimated to go into coffers, if the extra 50 cents a room is collected.

The campaign committee for Yes on Measure Z raised its goal of $30,000 to ensure passage, Chairman Dennis Crabb said.

The committee was spawned out of a grass-roots coalition formed in March when the city faced $450,000 in budget cuts. The threat of eliminating the police mounted patrol and the fire rescue boat among other services on the chopping block brought out a rancorous, standing-room-only crowd to the City Council meeting.

Laine said she is concerned the voters will be confused by the language of two tax increases lumped into one measure, but the council was “void of other options.”

“We didn’t want it to create a split in the community,” she said.

The coalition went through a painstaking process to reach an agreement, Crabb said.

“If we didn’t build the coalition, the measure wasn’t going anywhere,” Crabb said.

The Yes committee plans to send out three mailers to inform the voters of dire consequences facing the city with possible future shortfalls.

The first one should go out next week.

No known organized opposition of the measure has formed.

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