Davis homeless tax tabled. Residents will vote on taxes for roads and parks in June

A bicyclist rides alongside cars, trucks and buses at the corner of La Rue Road and Russell Blvd in Davis, Wednesday, November 12, 2008.
A bicyclist rides alongside cars, trucks and buses at the corner of La Rue Road and Russell Blvd in Davis, Wednesday, November 12, 2008. mjones@sacbee.com

Davis bicyclists and drivers annoyed by potholes and hard-to-decipher lane striping will get to vote in June on whether to tax themselves to fix the problem.

City Council members agreed Tuesday to put a $99 parcel tax for transportation-related improvements on the ballot in June alongside a renewal of a $49 parcel tax for parks. After several weeks of discussion, the council abandoned a proposed social services tax and chose to raise tax revenue through a parcel tax rather than a utility tax.

The two taxes should raise roughly $4.2 million a year – $1.4 million for parks and $2.8 million for transportation improvements such as street resurfacing and striping. The current parks tax sunsets in 2018.

The council dropped a proposed tax for social services that might have helped the city’s growing homeless population. Mayor Robb Davis said he dropped the concept after colleagues and staff felt it was clearer how the streets and parks dollars would be spent.

“I had been getting a significant amount of pushback about the idea” from constituents, Davis said. “And the reality is that it’s hard to pass more than one tax ... Davis just isn’t ready.”

Rather than raising objections to new taxes, public commenters suggested ways to make sure voters will approve the measures, such as simplifying ballot language.

“Anything you do, I think, that makes it more clear to the voters where the money is actually going to go will be more persuasive in getting them to vote for it,” said Dan Carson, the chair of the city’s Finance and Budget Commission, speaking as a private citizen. Carson has expertise in tax measures, having worked for years in the state Legislative Analyst’s Office.

The money raised would close roughly half of an annual $9 million funding gap for parks and transportation infrastructure over the next decade, according to city staff. The measures allow the taxes to increase by a maximum of 2 percent annually based on inflation.

Both taxes will need a two-thirds majority to pass. Funds raised from parcel taxes must be spent on the specific purpose outlined in the ballot measure and cannot be shifted to the general fund. An oversight committee will be established to ensure the funds are spent correctly.

The transportation tax would be up for renewal in 10 years, but the parks tax would remain in place for 20 years. Council members discussed making the parks tax permanent, as they were unable to imagine a future in which it wouldn’t be needed, but decided on the 20-year time frame.

The council will vote on final wording for the ballot measures at its next meeting.

Ellen Garrison: 916-321-1920, @EllenGarrison