Editorial: Spend Sacramento sales tax windfall where most needed

Published: Friday, Apr. 26, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 12A

Sacramento voters placed a lot of trust in the City Council by giving it $27 million more a year to spend from a half-cent hike in the sales tax.

If council members become too parochial and divided about where to spend that windfall, they could lose public confidence and split the community. And if Tuesday night's debate on a relatively paltry $600,000 list of parks maintenance projects is any indication, it could get ugly.

Cooler heads need to prevail. Council members should remember that they represent everyone in the city, not just their own constituents. They need to focus the limited amount of Measure U money on the most urgent needs – wherever they happen to be.

Council members put off voting on the parks projects for a week, until Tuesday, seeking more information on how they were picked. Parks department officials say they chose 15 projects because they are needed to provide safe drinking water and usable fields.

But Vice Mayor Angelique Ashby pointed out that none were proposed for her Natomas district, also shut out from the $374,000 for pools allocated so far from the higher sales tax, which kicked in April 1. On the other hand, she noted, as much as $185,000 would go to McKinley Park in east Sacramento, where the city is already investing a significant sum.

While making clear she wasn't calling for the exact same sum to go to each district, Ashby said "equity is essential, especially when you're taking tax dollars that are generated citywide." She also warned that if parts of the city are continually left out of the benefits from higher taxes, they will be hard-pressed to approve them again.

New Councilman Allen Warren chimed in, questioning why older parks in his north Sacramento district didn't make the list. His staff is testing water fountains and restrooms at district parks for any health issues, he told The Bee's editorial board Thursday.

Council members on Thursday received a full list of deferred parks maintenance projects, as well as a list of all parks construction done since 2000, which showed that Ashby's district had the most by far.

Councilman Steve Cohn, whose district includes McKinley Park, pointed out that it is used by residents from across the city, and that newer parks in Natomas are less likely to need urgent repairs.

The discord, he warned, was setting a bad tone on spending the Measure U money. "I don't want to see this council splintered on district lines," Cohn told colleagues. "This is crazy."

Council members will face bigger spending choices in the coming weeks. City Manager John Shirey plans to unveil his proposed budget on Monday, including a plan to use the sales tax money for the next six years. It's not going to help anyone to have acrimony over every project, to question the staff's impartiality or competence. It would be foolish to try to trace which district benefits from each dollar.

Before they can get taxpayers to trust their decisions, council members have to trust each other.

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