5 things to know about the proposed South Lake Tahoe sales tax for roads
This November South Lake Tahoe residents will vote on a half-percent sales tax increase with revenue going to a long-term road rehabilitation program.
The proposed special tax, which requires 66.7 percent of the vote to pass, would raise the sales tax from 7.75 percent to 8.25 percent. The increase would raise an estimated $2.5 million that, by law, can only be used for road construction and maintenance within the city limits. The tax has a sunset clause of 15 years.
To help residents make an educated vote come election time, this week the Tribune is breaking down five common questions on the proposed tax measure.
Who decides how the money is spent?
Because the proposed sales tax increase is being voted on as a special tax — which requires more than 50 percent plus one of the votes — the revenue collected from this tax increase would not go into the city’s general fund. Instead, it would be managed separately by a Roads Management Authority established by the city.
The City Council is currently considering creating a Roads Management Authority Commission rather than serving as the governing board for the authority themselves.
Based on an evaluation of the network of roads within the City of South Lake Tahoe by the Public Works Department, a Road Maintenance and Improvement Expenditure Plan would be created for the next 15 years. The proposed plan would be reviewed annually by the Roads Management Authority.
Further, City Council voted to establish a Citizens’ Oversight Committee, which will make recommendations on the plan and ensure the funds are used properly. The committee will be composed of 7-11 community volunteers.
Can future councils change where the money goes?
No. Future councils cannot vote to change where the revenue generated from the sales tax increase is spent. If passed, it could only be spent on roads until the tax expired in fifteen years.
“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 during a May Council Meeting. “A future council cannot change this. This is in law. I think this is very important.”
Who would do the roadwork?
Under contracting law, the City of South Lake Tahoe must release for bid all public works jobs over $75,000.
“If the work has that high of a value, you have to offer it to the public,” city manager Nancy Kerry explained, pointing to the economic benefits this could bring to local construction companies.
Can it be used for bike paths or trails?
Sometimes. The funds are primarily to be used for reconstructing failing streets, fixing potholes, and improving drainage on roads to reduce fine sediment runoff into the lake.
However, there is the possibility of using the funds to add in connector trails alongside a larger road improvement project, but not to do a project solely focused on trail construction.
“Let’s take Ponderosa [Street] for example. You have your trail, then you have to get on Ponderosa, then you have your trail. Maybe there is a way when we’re paving Ponderosa to get the trail in on the side,” said Jim Marino, assistant director of public works.
Similarly, bike lanes and pedestrian safety improvements could be implemented alongside other road projects.
Can the money be used for construction of the U.S. 50 realignment (Loop Road)?
No. Funds raised from the half-percent sales tax increase cannot be used on the U.S. 50/South Shore Community Revitalization Project, commonly referred to as the Loop Road Project.
“[Funds can] only be used for local jurisdiction roads that are owned by the City of South Lake Tahoe — not county, not state, not any other jurisdiction,” said city attorney Tom Watson. “It cannot be used for the Loop Road.”