WATSONVILLE—The Watsonville City Council on Tuesday got a first look at a half-cent sales tax which, if approved by voters in the Nov. 8 election, would fund city parks, recreation programs such as after-school and anti-gang programs and fund road repair city streets, among other things.
The council on June 28 will consider placing the “community investment transaction and use tax” on the ballot.
If approved, it would put the city’s sales tax at the state cap of 9.75%. It would raise an estimated $4 million annually, which would go to the city’s general fund. It would go into effect immediately after the election, and be in place until repealed by voters.
The tax would not cover essential purchases such as food and medication.
An oversight committee would report to the council.
The Council did not take action on the information-only item.
City staff brought the tax forward after a poll of 486 likely voters showed that 68% would support it, said City Manager Pro-Tem Tamara Vides.
That same poll listed roads and essential infrastructure as the top funding priority, with 85% saying they want investment here.
Other areas of concern are maintaining the city’s trail system and providing safe places for kids to play, as well as after-school programs, senior programs and parks.
“Our park system has been underfunded for a number of years,” Vides said. “And some of our parks are starting to show their age and they are hard to be maintained to a good standard.”
Vides said the idea for the tax comes as Watsonville reels from the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I can summarize it as a lack of sustainable funding that is available to support services that create a vibrant and resilient community.” Vides said.
Several council members expressed concern that the revenue be spent on what is promised to the voters.
Vides said that the specific allocations are up to the Council, and can be changed with a Council vote.
Councilmember Jimmy Dutra said that, despite the poll, passage of the tax is not a given. He pointed to Santa Cruz’s Measure F, a half-cent sales tax on the June 6 ballot that is behind, with 50.89% voting no.
“That could be an indication of what November is going to be, because of the inflation and families really suffering,” he said. “Have we considered this? Are we premature? Is this the right time?”
Administrative Services Department Director Cindy Czerwin acknowledged that new taxes can be a burden for residents in a low-income community, but said that Watsonville has fewer services to offer its residents than the City of Santa Cruz, a problem that can be ameliorated with the tax.
“I think it’s worth putting it to the voters to let them decide whether they want more services for our city or they don’t,” she said. “We’re saying that if you want more, this is a way to get there.”
Mayor Pro Tem Eduardo Montesino said that any new tax will face opposition.
“It’s never a good time to raise taxes,” he said. “But this is an opportunity for us to invest in our own community. I think the argument is, why wouldn’t we put this forward to the voters?”