Editorial: Where is citizens oversight panel on Sacramento sales tax?

Published: Tuesday, Apr. 2, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 8A

On Monday, shoppers in Sacramento started paying a sales tax of 8.5 percent – a half-cent increase that will bring an infusion of cash to City Hall.

So far, city officials seem to be keeping their word to voters who approved Measure U in November by allocating the initial $5 million windfall to add police officers, restore fire companies and open public pools.

But the city is falling short on a big part of the transparency and accountability it also promised – a citizens oversight committee. While the tax is now being collected, the committee is nowhere to be found.

Last October, the City Council passed a resolution for a five-member panel: a certified public accountant with audit experience, a business representative, a neighborhood group member, a taxpayer group representative and a member of the public at large. Since the election, the council committee in charge, Personnel & Public Employees, has met five times without taking any action on the oversight panel; it canceled its scheduled meeting today.

People have busy lives and make time commitments far in advance. To get strong candidates, the city needs to start recruiting right away. Committee Chairwoman Angelique Ashby said Monday she plans to open the application period later this month.

At this point, the oversight committee isn't scheduled to be in place until July 1. Officials say that's plenty of time because the panel's main duty under the council resolution is to review an annual audit of the sales tax proceeds, and the first audit won't be available until Jan. 1.

The ballot language, however, is not nearly that narrow; in its own "fact" sheet, the city said the committee would "review the revenue and expenditure of funds from the tax."

For public confidence, it would be far better for the council to give the citizens panel as broad a role as possible.

For instance, the committee – if it existed – could have a say during the council's budget process this spring on how the projected $27 million a year in additional sales tax money should be spent.

Voters granted City Hall a lot of trust by agreeing to pay higher taxes when many are still waiting to see the fruits of economic recovery. The city can't afford any fraying of that fragile faith. Now is the time to appoint the citizens committee and let it get to work.

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