KINGSBURG – With a state-level initiative looming that increases voter approval requirements, Kingsburg City Council decided to revamp its previously proposed general sales tax to one that would be dedicated to public safety.
The decision was made at a special Kingsburg City Council meeting Feb. 28.
Instead of requiring only a simple majority, their newly proposed measure will need two-thirds to pass. Another change was to increase the proposed tax from ¾ to one percent.
“It’s a dollar for every $100,” Councilwoman Laura North said of the increase. A computer glitch caused a security scare at Kingsburg High recently and that’s caused many to call for increased school safety measures. North said she thinks the community would back the sales tax increase if they realized it would help fund an officer for local schools.
“People are worried about their kids and they’re pushing for a campus officer. If that were part of this, I think it would give us a better chance of getting it passed.”
Councilman Sherman Dix serves on the town’s Public Safety Committee and said the topic of putting officers on campus has come up before. However, since their schools’ enrollments have dropped, the state gives Kingsburg schools less money.
“There haven’t been enough funds to hire campus officers,” North said. “We don’t have the budget for it [nor do we have] the number of students to make up the difference in the budget.”
Mayor Pro Tem Bruce Blayney estimates it would cost $125,000 annually to add another police officer to the city’s ranks. Raising the proposed tax from ¾ to one percent would make even more dollars available to help fund a school officer.
Currently, Kingsburg’s sales tax is 7.98 percent. If this new measure is approved, the tax would be 8.06 percent and would raise approximately $940,000 annually. The measure will be on the June 5 ballot.
Council said what also prompted the move to a dedicated safety tax is the possibility that a state-wide initiative, known as the Tax Fairness, Transparency and Accountability Act, gets approved. That measure requires that any new tax gets two-thirds voter approval. It’s scheduled for the November election and would be applied retroactively to Jan. 1, 2018. Thus, if approved, the Tax Fairness Act would void Kingsburg’s previous proposal.
Currently, proponents of the Tax Fairness Act are only gathering signatures to place it on the November ballot. Council reasoned it would be better meet the possible state requirements now.
“All the work we just did would go out the window,” Mayor Michelle Roman said of the local tax measure that’s been discussed and reworked since early 2016.
Blayney asked if this revamped tax proposal would meet the possible new state requirements. City Attorney Michael Noland said even though it’s unclear whether that act will even qualify for the ballot, he included wording to ensure flexibility so their measure would comply.
“Everything is up in the air,” Noland said. “Nobody knows exactly what the [state] initiative may say, so we thought it was best to put in these incorporation provisions. Anything that gets passed will get incorporated into our ordinance.”
Noland said if Kingsburg’s tax proposal is approved, the money raised through sales taxes would go into a dedicated fund and would be spent strictly on public safety needs.
Since there is a March 9 deadline looming with the Fresno County Elections office, Council will discuss and most likely adopt the ordinance at its March 7 City Council meeting.
Roman added that if their measure passes in June, a citizens’ oversight committee will be set up to ensure the funds are spent appropriately. That committee would also give annual reports to the Council.
Roman added that she realizes no one likes paying more taxes, however both the police and fire departments have dire needs not only for more staffing but for new equipment as well.
“People are saying ‘no’ when it comes to a new tax and yet they keep saying they want more officers,” she said. “Once they hear from both of our department, the chiefs and the officers and firefighters who need the equipment, their minds will change. I want to believe people will vote for it.”