Measure Y renewal moving toward SLO voters
May 22, 2014
By JOSH FRIEDMAN
After Councilwoman Kathy Smith switched her position earlier this month on renewing Measure Y, four out of five members of the San Luis Obispo City Council continue to support placing the half cent sales tax on the November ballot.
State law requires a two-thirds vote of the council to send a general sales tax initiative to voters. At a May 6 council meeting, Smith agreed to provide the fourth vote needed to place Measure Y back on the ballot as long as the council would create a citizen’s oversight committee to track the use of the funds.
On Tuesday, Smith held her new position, though she indicated last week at a Measure Y panel discussion that her mind was still open.
During the council discussion, debate continued over the wording of the November ballot measure and the composition of the proposed committee.
Much of the dispute over Measure Y surrounds the city’s use of the sales tax dollars for capital improvement projects. City staffers claim they spent 60 percent of Measure Y funds on capital improvement projects, but critics suggest that the majority of the money went to routine maintenance and backfilling salary and pension costs.
The ballot measure, as currently proposed, states that sales tax dollars will go to capital improvement projects but makes no mention of salaries and pensions.
During the hearing, Mayor Jan Marx requested that staff explain how the city defines capital improvement projects.
City finance director Wayne Padilla said capital improvement projects consist of non-routine maintenance activities and city expenditures of at least $25,000. Assistant City Manager Michael Codron said capital improvement projects are projects that are contained within the city’s capital improvement plan, such as open space acquisition.
“Maybe not exactly what would be meant as a textbook definition,” Codron said.
Major expenditures listed in the capital improvement plan include street maintenance, creek flooding protection and sewer system upgrades. The city is deferring most of the spending, though, on the sewer upgrade until at least the next fiscal year.
Both councilmen Dan Carpenter and John Ashbaugh said they oppose the creation of a citizen’s oversight committee and that voters should elected new representatives if they are not satisfied with the ways in which money is spent. Ashbaugh, though, said he is willing to work with Smith in creating a committee in order to place Measure Y renewal on the ballot.
Smith requested that the citizens oversight committee have the authority to direct staff on how it spends city sales tax funds. The majority of the council, however, said Tuesday that they oppose granting a committee that power.
The council will continue to hash out details of the proposed committee, including requirements for membership, at its June 10 meeting. In order to place Measure Y on the November ballot, the council must finalize the wording of the initiative and a corresponding ordinance by August 8.