by Bob Doran
When the Arcata City Council met tonight to consider putting a 3/4 cent sales tax on the November ballot, they shifted gears considerably from the tax they'd previously been discussing.
A new plan, put forward by Mayor Mark Wheetley and Vice Mayor Alex Stillman (and news to some on the council) changed what had been a specifically ear-marked sales tax that would have put 1/2 cent towards public works (road repairs and such) and 1/4 cent to help pay for increased police staffing. Instead they proposed a "general" tax, which would put the money collected into the general fund.
The big difference is in the majority required for passage. While a 2/3 "super" majority is required to pass a special use tax (the one they'd been talking about), a general tax only requires a simple majority: 50 percent plus 1. They did not come right out and say it, but Alex seemed to be hinting that results of a recent survey commissioned by the council show that the special tax may not get the votes to pass.
The trick here, if you want to call it that, is wording in the measure that specifies "such as" this and that. Where the special use tax is specific, the language in the general tax measure will include a number of "such as" items that basically boil down to police and potholes.
Councilmember Harmony Groves took a minority position, pointing out several things: that the original purpose was to cover a $14 million shortfall in public works and that police services were added later, that by its nature, a sales tax in a regressive tax , and that the proposed term of the tax, 20 years, means the money collected will be controlled by a number of different councils down the line, who might have a different idea on how to spend the taxpayers' money.
Councilmember Michael Machi made a good point noting, "Obviously there are people who will be unhappy with any tax." (Fred, would you care to chime in here?)
Harmony was the sole nay vote on the various changes put forward.
The shift in the tax means that language in the motion has to be rewritten. City Attorney Nancy Diamond will be up either late or early to do so, since the council will be meeting to vote on the final motion tomorrow morning (Thursday, July 3) at 9 a.m. They have to have the whole thing done by noon tomorrow to met an elections office deadline, so time is of the essence.
Incidentally, a little later in the meeting Harmony dropped a bombshell by announcing that she will not be running for council again. She encouraged anyone who wants to serve the community to step forward. Any takers?