I have been reading with interest the varied letters on the Measure X issue.
The question is: should we or shouldn’t we pass this ½ cent sales tax. Most readers acknowledge that our police should be retained and given a competitive salary, the water system needs major upgrades, parks & playgrounds require regular maintenance, etc.
I’ve yet to see a letter in which a resident suggests that we don’t need these things, but how to pay for them is the question of the day. Some letters have suggested that a specific tax (like Measure D – street paving last year) would be preferred; this way the monies can be more easily tracked by the Oversight Committee.
The problem with a specific tax is just that – its specific to one type of work and Martinez has numerous things that need attention. So, a specific is not an option.
I’ve also read, something to the effect (paraphrase), that other cities in the county have lower sales tax rates and Martinez needs to live within its budget … this will give Martinez one of the highest sales tax rates in the county. Yes, other cities have lower sales tax rate with the lowest being 8.25, but the highest is 9.75 in El Cerrito.
Generally speaking cities with lower sales tax rates are of 2 types 1) have a more robust economic environment with shopping centers, car dealerships, etc. taking in more money; or 2) higher property values (Kensington, Black Hawk, Lafayette, San Ramon, Walnut Creek). Martinez has neither of these in abundance and, therefore, less money coming into the city.
Additionally, some folks distrust the council and believe they will not be good fiscal stewards of these new funds. The example usually given to support this argument is the money spend on the baseball field for the privately-owned Clippers. At one time I too was not in favor of this expenditure, but have come to realize that public-private partnerships can be a driving engine in economic revitalization. There may be more of these agreements in our future in order to attract new business. By the way, the ballfield can also be used by high school level teams that require a pitcher’s mound.
So why the budget shortfall? This year several costly payments hit the city and were out of this council’s control.
First, the seemingly never ending need to give CalPERS more money. Every time the CalPERS retirement board misses the mark on projected investment income to the pension plan (which seems to be an annual occurrence) municipalities have to make up the difference – over and above the usual payroll payment.
This happens to cities all over the state, but Martinez with its limited budget is hit especially hard. This additional CalPers payment over the next three years is projected to be $1.5 million.
Second, was the payment required to the Social Security Administration for employees hired into the Pleasant Hill-Martinez Joint Agreement. This agreement was originally developed in the 1970s with the understanding that the two cities would share in some joint projects. This never came to be and this council was put in the position of paying back employee social security tax. To the credit of city staff and the council they were able to negotiate paying only three years of back employee taxes while the employees were given full social security credit for quarters worked.
Finally, Martinez has basically two major avenues for income; property tax and sales tax. What we get from property tax is determined and controlled by the state. It’s only sales tax that the city has any control over when it comes to balancing a budget.
I hope you see that there are limited choices available to the city and that Measure X is essential to Martinez. Please support Measure X in the November election.
– Marta Van Loan