Tahoe Keys group pushing for sales tax increase, funding for roads
With a half-percent sales tax increase to be voted on this November in South Lake Tahoe, a group of Tahoe Keys residents are pushing for the public to join them in passing that increase, and also to vote in favor of putting that money towards roads.
“I have noticed a huge degradation of our road conditions in town,” said Leon Malmed, chair of the four-person Tahoe Keys Property Owners Association Road Committee, which is lobbying for support of Measure U and R on the ballot this election.
Measure U, if passed, would raise the sales tax from 8 percent to 8.5 percent. Those who vote in favor of the increase are then given a choice of where they would like to see the estimated $2.5 million spent annually: roads (Measure R), housing (Measure Q), or facilities (Measure S).
In the process of exploring how the road committee could influence road conditions, Malmed discovered that there is no line item in the budget for the rebuilding of roads in South Lake Tahoe.
“It greatly varies year to year and is funded whenever there is money left over,” said Malmed. “In 2014 $300,000 was spent on road maintenance, in 2015 no money was spent, and in 2016 $1.5 million was allocated to roads.”
In fact, according to South Lake Tahoe Mayor Pro Tem Austin Sass, there has never been a line item in the budget for road rehabilitation since the city was incorporated.
“There has been money for pothole improvements and for cracks, but there was never any money put into the budget and spent on road rehabilitation in 50 years,” explained Sass.
Money raised from the gas tax goes toward road maintenance, but with lower prices at the pump and more fuel-efficient vehicles on the market, that revenue has gone down.
Those funds are just a drop in the bucket, said Sass.
“We have a $31-million backlog of road maintenance,” said Sass. “So, when you start to look at a number that big, it’s so big, how do you ever solve it? One way you solve it is the tax measure.”
The road conditions stem from a poor foundation, according to Sass.
“The majority of the city was initially dirt roads. At some point they oiled the roads so dirt wouldn’t kick up and things stayed in place. After that they paved directly on that rather than putting a proper foundation on the roads,” said Sass.
“So the roads were never built the way they should have been initially. As a result, they break down quite easily. They also break down because of the winter-summer thaw that we have every single year. They break down because of snow plows and chains on vehicles.”
Malmed said he understands that the average person is against any increase in taxes, but without this solution, the problem with roads will only get worse.
“When it comes to taxes, it’s a dirty word. No one wants to increase taxes. What I wanted to check is how much would it really would cost in dollars to any of us because food is not taxed. Medication is not taxed. And most of the spending that is taxed is actually done by outsiders, people coming into the town,” said Malmed.
“If a family spends $5,000 a year on non-food items, the extra cost is $25 a year.”
Sass said that if the funds raised from the sales tax increase go toward roads, it would allow the city’s Public Works Department to better collaborate with utility companies on road construction.
“If this were to pass for roads, Jim Marino and his team would know in advance that they have $2.5 million a year. They could apply for grants, water quality grants, and know that in two years when PG&E tells us they are going to be digging up Pioneer Trail, for example, we could then collaborate with them,” said Sass, who clarified that although he supports this measure, the city as a whole does not take an official position on any of the ballot measures.
Last year, said Sass, the city purchased software and an imaging service that allowed them to catalogue every city street and sidewalk.
“Based upon that, they used the software to grade everything and to track the maintenance of everything,” explained Sass.
“With this grading system that the Public Works Department has, they’ll use that as the basis to determine where they would spend this $2.5 million annually, combined with some of the projects that the utility companies may be doing in the near future as well.”
To pass, Measure U must receive 50 percent plus one of the votes in November’s election. If more than one of the advisory measures—R, Q or S—are selected, the vote will not count.