Sales tax increase for South Lake Tahoe roads to be on November ballot
This November South Lake Tahoe residents will have the opportunity to vote on a half-percent sales tax increase with revenue going to a long-term road rehabilitation program.
At the June 6 City Council meeting councilmembers unanimously approved a ballot measure that, if passed, would raise the sales tax from 7.75 percent to 8.25 percent. The proposed increase is 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.
Like other sales taxes, essential items such as groceries and medicine are exempt.
Council also voted to create a Citizens’ Oversight Committee, made up of 7-11 community volunteers, for accountability protection. The measure includes a sunset clause, or expiration date, of 15 years.
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.
City officials cited confusion over the advisory vote and the fact that the funds were not specifically assigned to roads for the measure’s failure.
This time around the city hired a consulting firm to survey the community and determine the likelihood of the tax increase passing.
After surveying 355 residents, TBWB Strategies reported that 68 percent said they would support the measure. Almost 85 percent of those surveyed classified fixing potholes as the highest priority.
Assistant public works director Jim Marino has long advocated for a designated source of funding to create a roads program. At present, there is a backlog of $41 million in maintenance on the city’s 129 miles of roadway.
“People often ask, ‘Why can’t the city pull money out of the budget?’ I’m the guy looking at the budget. And I’m the guy looking at the grant funds. And I’m the guy looking at everything from gas tax incentives to everything available such as overweight truck fees and anything that we can institute into a roadway program,” Marino said at the meeting.
“You could probably get some funds out of the city general budget, but they won’t be enough and they won’t be annual because as soon as the next crisis hits, whether its police or fire, it all disappears and that’s what the history of most public works departments is.”
Marino said that with a $2.5 to $3 million annual budget, public works could drastically improve the city’s roads in the next 10 to 15 years. It would also allow them the opportunity to work with local utility providers as they begin long-term maintenance that will require many roads to be dug up.
South Lake Tahoe is not the first city in the basin to go this route with roadwork.
In 1998, Truckee passed a half-cent road improvement sales tax with a 10-year sunset clause. When the residents were back at the polls in 2008, they voted to extend this sales tax for road rehabilitation another 20 years.
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