Half-cent sales tax hike won’t be on Nov. ballot

The residents of Concord will not be voting on a half-cent extension to Measure Q in November, despite the fact that a majority of the Concord City Council approved the measure.

Due to a little-used mayoral ordinance, such tax plans need a 4-1 vote to pass. Council members Carlyn Obringer and Ron Leone opposed the measure, while Mayor Edi Birsan and council members Laura Hoffmeister and Tim McGallian were in favor of sending the tax increase to the voters.

Measure Q has been a fiscal lifesaver since it passed in 2010 and was extended in 2016. It has helped stave off many budget woes, improve infrastructure and keep the city on solid footing. But that’s about to change next year – when the costs of pensions rise and construction costs skyrocket, according to city manager Valerie Barone.

Godbe and Associates conducted a survey of residents, asking about the quality of life in Concord, what they thought Measure Q money should be spent on and whether they would support a half-cent sales tax increase, bringing Concord’s total to 9.5 percent. More than 70 percent of respondents said they would support the increase, whether the election was held in 2018 or 2020.

Putting the tax increase on the November ballot was one of those rare issues that all four public speakers supported.

“To quote (former Councilman) Dan Helix, ‘If you want services, you have to pay for it,’ ” said speaker Ray Barbour.

Kenji Yamada, who is running for the District 3 council seat, concurred. “It’s not popular to ask to increase taxes, but this one makes sense,” he said.

Barone stressed that the longer the city waits to improve roads, the more expensive it will be. “Now we don’t have a plan for the infrastructure improvements, because we don’t know how much money we’ll have,” she noted.

Finance manager Karen Reid said some funds, such as grants, were not available for residential street improvements.

Birsan, Hoffmeister and McGallian echoed the staff’s concerns, and stated their opinions vehemently. “We should be ahead of the curve,” said Hoffmeister. “And I am comfortable that the Measure Q Oversight Committee agrees with this issue.”

Despite the general sense of approval for the tax increase, Obringer clearly stated her opposition to the timing of the ballot measure.

“As vice mayor, I am well-aware of the budget challenges that the city of Concord is facing, particularly with regard to funding road work and maintenance that was deferred for years,” she told the Pioneer. “However, the reason for my vote is that I did not feel that there had been enough communication with the public regarding the proposal or the reasons behind it.”

She said she spoke to many Concord residents who were “surprised this measure was being considered, asking: ‘Why now, what’s the crisis?’ At this time, the extensive public outreach for a Measure Q extension and increase has not been done in the community as had been done for the original Measure Q in 2010. An outreach plan had not even been formulated prior to Aug. 7.”
She also reminded the council that the Mt. Diablo Unified School District is planning a parcel tax on the November 2018 ballot.

“I will be proposing to my council colleagues that we put on the agenda at an upcoming City Council meeting the development of a public outreach plan for either the extension of Measure Q or a tax measure focused solely on funding for roadwork to be placed on an upcoming ballot,” she said.

As part of the outreach plan, Obringer said she would like the city to put together a Citizens Advisory Committee, including members of the Measure Q Committee, the business community, neighborhood partnerships, HOA boards and other stakeholders to make presentations to community groups.

She said she wants representatives from each of the city’s five districts to clearly explain what the city has been doing to stabilize its financial position and what factors have led to the need for another Measure Q extension, along with communicating a clear plan on how the money will be used.
“We need to solicit community input,” she said.