South Lake Tahoe voters asked to decide on 1% sales tax increase
What do the council candidates say:
Bruce Grego: “There’s no commitment on how the funds will be used. Sales tax increases have a cost of living increase built into them because the cost of goods goes up.” Grego added he’s concerned about a tax increase without checks and balances.
Cristi Creegan: “I know it’s easy for people to complain about perceived past budget (mis)management but that doesn’t get us where we need to be now, which is allocating funding for our emergency services. We are still in a time of extreme uncertainty with regard to the pandemic and its effects, and shoring up funding for community safety should be everyone’s priority.”
Scott Robbins: With the fire department being one of the areas the measure would fund, Robbins is concerned about what that says about the city’s priorities. “Funding the fire department should be the first priority of general funds. The measure being sold as a way to fund the fire department shows that funding the fire department is an afterthought not a first priority.”
Leonard Carter: “I’m very much a fiscal conservative. I’m basically, in general, against tax increases. Bring me down there on your budget decisions, I’ll bet I can find a place to cut.”
John Friedrich: “I think it is [the right decision]. I think the city staff and council have done a good job of pairing down expenses. At the end of the day, we need to invest in our crumbling roads, we need to invest in police, we need to pay for core services. I think the financially responsible thing to do is to raise additional revenues otherwise, we’ll have to cut things like road repair, police and fire.”
Stacey Ballard: “I don’t agree with the sales tax because that puts pressures on our locals. That’s adding more tax to what I’m paying instead of more taxes to what the visitors are paying. We need to find a way to tax the visitors.”
Doug Williams: Williams said he did not want to comment on the measure. Later in the interview he said, “We need to stop spending money on studies, except the ones required by law, stopping sending people down on trips to Mexico on the city’s dime. That money should have been put back into our roads, not spent on feel good things.”
Keith Roberts: “I think it makes sense. It dials back to tourists, we need to charge more the products, resources and services we’re offering to make up the difference from the negative impact.”
Daniel Browne: “The one cent sales tax, who does that hurt the most? The citizens and businesses in this community. Do [the tourists] shop at the hardware stores, nurseries, paint stores? No.” Browne added that if prices are too high in the basin, people will travel out of the basin to places to like Carson City to do their shopping.
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Fire safety, road rehabilitation and economic insecurity have been on the minds of South Lake Tahoe residents. In November, South Lake voters will get to decide on whether or not they want a one cent sales tax increase to help in those areas.
Measure S is predicted to raise about $5.4 million annually which the city said will be used to offset a looming $6.5 million deficit from the pandemic and the rising cost of providing services. Also, after the Measure T vacation home rental restrictions goes into effect at the end of this year, the city estimates they could lose up to $2.4 million in annual transient occupancy tax income and $1 million in vacation home rental fees.
“The city has already enacted millions in cuts, both this year as a response to COVID-19 and in years past after state takeaways of local funds,” City Manager Joe Irvin said. “In no small part because of past budget reductions, should an additional source of local funds not be identified, the city is unable to make additional cuts without also enacting service reductions, including in the service areas that our residents have told us they value.”
One of the concerns residents have raised about the measure is that the funds raised from tax increase have not been earmarked, leading some to question what the money will actually be spent on.
“There’s no commitment on how the funds will be used,” said Bruce Grego, city council candidate.
The city has been polling residents throughout the year about their priorities and how they’d like to see the money be spent.
“Those priorities were varied beyond the confines required of a special purpose measure, which is limited to a single subject by law,” Irvin said.
Resident responses stated they wanted reduction of wildfire threats, faster 911 response times, road safety and repair, efficient snow removal, city drinking water and the lake staying safe and clean.
“These varied priorities aren’t easy or cheap, and have been made harder after years of state takeaways of local funds,” Irvin said.
In addition, Irvin said the measure mandates annual independent financial audits and reports to the community.
“We will make our process as transparent as possible, so if Measure S is passed, residents will know exactly where Measure S funds were spent,” Irvin said.
During the meeting in which the city council approved the question going on the ballot, the council debated putting a sunset clause on the increase, which would end the increase at a set date. They ultimately decided against the sunset clause, citing responses on the questionnaire as the reason.
“Community feedback showed that South Lake Tahoe voters were interested in retaining the power to end a measure themselves,” Irvin said. “Council elected to follow their feedback.”
The South Tahoe Chamber of Commerce was disappointed they decided not to put in the sunset clause.
“It gives the voters more assurance,” said chamber Executive Director Duane Wallace. The South Tahoe Chamber has not come out for or against the measure but Wallace said they, “understand the pickle the city is in.”
Another concern expressed about the measure is that it would disportionately impact residents more than tourists.
“We’ve looked into this and 50% of our sales tax dollars come from visitors to South Lake Tahoe,” Irvin said. “If Measure S is approved, visitors to South Lake Tahoe will pay their fair share for their use of the city’s services while here, including fire safety and emergency response and roads.”
Irvin added that essential purchases such as groceries and prescription medication are exempt from Measure S.
During the pandemic, the strains of day trippers to Tahoe were felt by many residents. One of the issues with day trippers is that they aren’t contributing to TOT and some residents have been asking city council during public comment to address the issue. Measure S could help offset that, at least for visitors who are making purchases during their trip and not bringing food and other goods from home.
The Tahoe Chamber of Commerce has endorsed the measure but expressed many of the same concerns as the residents.
“The sales tax in neighboring Douglas County and Carson City will be lower by comparison. Although Measure S is entitled ‘The South Lake Tahoe Fire Protection, Emergency Response, City Services Measure’ it is a general tax so there is no guarantee the funds will be used for those purposes. Finally, Measure S contains no sunset clause,” said a guest column that listed endorsements from the Chamber (see page A16).
Still, they surveyed Tahoe Chamber members and found that more than 50% support the measure.
“Accordingly, despite our concerns, we urge city voters to favorably consider a yes vote on Measure S,” the letter said.
“We want to make sure we are fire prepared; our streets are maintained and safe, and that we as a city can attend to the needs of our residents and businesses, especially as we address the challenges of a growing fire season and the ongoing impacts of COVID19,” Irvin said. “Measure S would help us achieve these goals and provide a local source of funds that could not be taken by the state.”
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