By Andrea Adelson and Allison Jarrell
City officials put off an expected discussion of a proposed tax increase this week, a delay one City Council member said would benefit the public, which seems unaware that two different sales tax approaches are under consideration.
The discussion over the controversial potential sales tax measure on the November ballot, originally planned for this week’s City Council agenda, was postponed until Tuesday, July 17. Mayor Kelly Boyd missed the July 10 meeting due to ill health and wanted to be a part of the discussion and decision on the matter, City Manager John Pietig said.
The proposed ballot measure would raise local sales tax to 8.75 percent from 7.75 percent, or a 12.9 percent increase, which would be the highest in the county. City officials intend to use the extra revenue to underwrite a safety measure, the burying of utility wires along Laguna Canyon Road and other key roads.
At issue is whether the council intends a ballot measure that promises to dedicate extra revenue solely to the undergrounding project, which would require a two-thirds majority vote for passage, or a more broadly written general purpose tax measure, which would require a simple majority for passage.
Council member Steve Dicterow found a silver lining in the postponement. He admitted to being unaware until reviewing the past week’s agenda that a general sales tax rather than a special tax was under consideration. He said he couldn’t recall a public discussion of the options previously.
“I want to be very clear. I’m not accusing anyone of trying to slip one by,” Dicterow said Tuesday. “However, I do think that the tenor of all of our prior discussions was regarding a special tax and not a general tax. It is, from my perspective, a tremendous surprise to the public that we’re considering that. I have no problem with us doing that, but I would have had a problem with us doing that tonight.”
Assistant City Manager Shohreh Dupuis said there was a question in the city’s initial community survey asking residents whether they would support a special tax or a general tax, and that the options were discussed among a council subcommittee.
Dupuis said the general tax idea was dropped due to a potential November ballot measure that would have limited the ability of cities and counties statewide to raise local taxes by requiring a two-thirds vote. Since then, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation on June 28 that removed that proposition from the ballot.
With that issue off the table, Dupuis said the subcommittee worked with city staff to revive the option of pursuing a general sales tax.
Dicterow noted that while a special purpose tax has earmarked funds that require a vote of the public to reallocate, a general purpose tax is spent based on a council-approved expenditure plan that can change from year to year.
“There’s been, from my perspective, a real shift in what the debate is going to be about next week,” Dicterow said.
The July 17 council meeting will begin at 6 p.m. at City Hall. For more information on the ballot measure, visitwww.lagunabeachcity.net.