A survey commissioned by the city indicates that residents of Escondido view a possible sales tax increase to maintain services as a viable option. Nearly two-thirds indicate support for a one cent sales tax increase if it would maintain city services.
“It could be a game changer,” City Manager Jeff Epp told The Times-Advocate this week. He said such a one cent sales tax could raise between $20-$30 million a year.
This would require a vote of the people. A general tax measure requires one more vote than 50% to pass.
The city budgeted $50,000 for the survey, which was conducted by True North Research Inc.
According to the staff report to the City Council that was presented at the Wednesday, November 20 meeting. According to the report, “. . . revenues have not kept pace with the growing costs associates with providing municipal services and facilities. It is becoming more challenging to maintain the quality of City services such as crime and gang prevention, 9-1-1 response, streets, parks and infrastructure maintenance and repair.”
This is largely a result of ballooning payments that the city has had to pay to fund the CalPERS state pension program. To meet its obligations the city has “aggressively” reduced staffing below pre-Great Recession levels, to address part of its pension problems and cut back on services, although the city population is on the rise.
At its May meeting the council was told that future budgets will see “dramatic increases in expenditures that far exceed anticipated revenues, resulting in a structural budget gap,” according to the staff report.
At that meeting Epp recommended evaluating a potential sales tax to help maintain city services. In August the council approved the consulting agreement with the survey company.
City council members Olga Diaz and John Masson worked with staff and True North to craft the survey questions. The survey was conducted by phone to a random sample of 1,084 likely voters.
About 60% had favorable opinions of Escondido quality of life, with 8% saying excellent and 52% saying good, 32% fair, 6% poor and 1% very poor.
The survey also asked what might be done to improve the quality of life. Twenty-five percent supported increasing police, 21 percent said to address the homeless issue, 13% called for improving infrastructure, roads, streets, and sidewalks to improve quality of life, with 9% supporting cleaning up and beautifying the City and landscaping and / or removing graffiti. Another 6% supported dealing with traffic congestion while 5% supported providing affordable housing. Another 14% were happy with the status quo.
Of those surveyed 70% said they were happy with the city’s efforts to provide municipal services, with 14% very satisfied, and 57% somewhat satisfied. Another 23% said they were unhappy with city services and 7% were unsure or unwilling to state.
Sixty-five percent, nearly two-thirds of those survey said they would definitely or probably support a proposed one-cent sales tax, and 23% said they would oppose the measure, with 7% unsure.
To put a one-cent sales tax measure on the November 2020 ballot would require four of the five council members voting aye. The deadline to do so is June 24.