South Pasadena City Council members voted unanimously Wednesday night to declare a “fiscal emergency” and place a 0.75 percent sales tax on the November 5 ballot. The measure would require a simple majority and take effect July 1, 2020. The Council’s decision came with little discussion after it listened to a presentation on the results of a survey the city commissioned to test voter sentiment on a prospective sales tax.
The survey of 607 likely registered 2020 voters was completed by True North Research of Encinitas, California. In a written report, True North said 68 percent of these voters said they would “definitely or probably” support the 0.75 percent sales tax, while 24 percent said they would oppose and 9 percent were unsure.
That compares with the 65 percent favorable figure the city reported from a smaller, less formal study it conducted itself. A sales tax was also recommended by the city’s Finance Commission.
“You have strong numbers,” True North President Dr. Tim McLarney, told the Council. He said the prospective measure has a “reasonable chance of success” but warned the survey is but a “snap shot” and not a crystal ball.
The survey included other positive news for the city, according to McLarney. He said 96 percent of voters have favorable opinions of the quality of life in South Pasadena, with 54 percent saying it is excellent and 42 percent saying it is good.
Less than one percent called it poor or very poor. Eighty-five percent of voters also said they were satisfied with the city’s efforts to provide municipal services, including 36 percent who were very satisfied. About 12 percent said there dissatisfied.
True North also reported that when asked what changes the city could make to improve the quality of life in town, 19 percent mentioned improving and maintaining infrastructure, roads and sidewalks, while 9 percent cited reductions in traffic congestion. Another 7 percent called for more affordable housing and/or rent control and 6 percent wanted the city to address parking issues.
South Pasadena does not currently have a sales tax, city manager Stephanie DeWolfe explained. The sales tax now collected is pass through from the county and state. She said “most if not all Southland communities” are passing sales taxes “as a means to balance increasingly strained local budgets” and because there is a 10 percent cap on local sales taxes that most communities are approaching and want to secure an additional share of before other eligible taxing districts eat up the remaining headroom.
The city is burdened by increasing costs for pensions, materials, contractors, and personnel, city staff said in a report. It has “aging infrastructure that will require significant additional investment in future years.” A five-year forecast shows city revenues will not be able to keep up with costs.
The proposed sales tax will bring in an estimated $1.5 million annually. “This revenue stream would close the budget gap for the next several years by supporting increased investment in human capital, and allowing current service levels and infrastructure investment to continue, along with limited investment in strategic initiatives such as technology,” the report said.
McLarney’s written material said True North has designed and conducted over 1,000 surveys, a third of which dealt with “revenue measure feasibility.” It said of the measures that have gone to ballot based on its recommendation, 96 percent have been successful, raising a total of more than $32 billion.