Santa Maria voters may have a case of dejà vu when they cast their ballot during the upcoming November election.
Just like they did in 2012, voters will get to decide on Measure U, a sales tax increase intended to provide additional public safety funding.
“We are pleased to place this issue on the ballot for consideration by the community,” said City Manager City Stilwell in a statement. “Over the last few months, we have engaged nearly a thousand residents at more than two dozen community events on their local priorities. We have heard loud and clear that our residents want to protect Measure U’s locally-controlled public safety funds.”
On Tuesday night, Santa Maria City Council voted to place the local funding measure on the ballot, which will change significantly from when it was first passed six years ago.
Unlike the 2012 version, which bumped sales tax up a quarter-cent, the 2018 Measure U will be more.
“It will be an overall one percent sales and use tax for Measure U, which will fund city services,” said Stillwell. “A strong majority of our public wants more public safety, more youth programs and more quality of life services and are willing to pay for that.”
If passed, the measure would mean sales tax would rise from a current 8 percent up to 8.75 percent.
“Every $100 you spend shopping in Santa Maria, you would pay $8.75 total and of that, $1 would come to the city,” Stillwell said. “Every dollar overall would be one cent paying for public safety and city services.”
Stillwell said Measure U currently brings in between $4 million to $5 million annually. According to projections, the increase to 8.75 percent would generate up to $18 million each year.
The money is used to help fund public safety and quality of life services.
“The money stays local and would be used for local services,” Stillwell said. “It includes things like public safety, police services and fire services, addressing homeless issues, addressing property crime and traffic enforcement issues, addressing further programs for youth and at-risk youth and to prevent youth violence and we be able to expand those programs.”
Stillwell said passing Measure U is especially vital since it’s scheduled to expire in 2021.
“We’re dealing with budget challenges like other communities are, but this would be able to allow us to maintain the services the voters want to have maintained and enhance the services,” said Stillwell.
While many are in favor of investing in important public safety services, not everyone is excited about the prospect of paying more at the cash register.
“I would be inclined at this point to say no I probably wouldn’t be in favor of it if I was voting,” said Santa Maria resident Erin Phillips.
Phillips added the cost of living in California is already expensive even before incurring another tax increase.
“I would be leery of it,” said Phillips. “With increased DMV fees, with increased gasoline cost and the different taxes that are going into the budget, if they could stay away from having an increase the sales tax, I think that would be a good thing.”
As Santa Maria leaders grapple with budget issues, Measure U is seen as an important way to help offset rising costs and shrinking revenue streams.
“The City needs a dependable revenue source to fund our vital City services,” Mayor Alice Patino said in a statement. “This local measure, if enacted by voters, will maintain our dependable revenue stream that can never be taken by the State. Maintaining this local funding will help our local Police Department and Fire Department build on our success and keep Santa Maria an excellent place to live. We look forward to talking with Santa Maria residents about our City’s needs and look forward to hearing from them in November.”
Measure U will need a simple majority to pass, 50 percent of the vote, plus one.