Nevada City to mull tax revenue allocations (UPDATE)
May 13, 2013
Correction: Nevada City officials have corrected their agenda to reflect it scheduled time as 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 16, at Nevada City Hall.
Six months after Nevada City voters overwhelming ratified a sales tax increase to prop up city services, elected officials will host a meeting Thursday to explore how best to spend those added dollars.
"We would like to have public input on it," said Sally Harris, a Nevada City Council member.
The tax, dubbed Measure L during the November election, took effect at the beginning of April, jumping the city's sales tax up 8.5 percent by adding a 3/8-cent increase. Municipal departments have no shortage of allocation ideas for the more than $300,00 of added revenue the added tax is expected to bring in the first year alone. A list on the city's website contains sections, and Section C, the one titled "Building and Grounds Repair and Maintenance," has a total of $398,500 funding options.
"If you add all those things up, it's more than money that the tax will generate," Harris explained. "The list on the city's website, I view as more of a wish list. It is a list of ideas the department heads came up with."
While Nevada City Manager David Brennan has stated that his No. 1 request is building an emergency fund, some of the requests on the wish list point to hot topics in Nevada City.
During the economic downturn, Nevada City lost $487,000 in tax revenues from 2008-09 levels — forcing the city to staff some of its most prominent positions with part-timers, including the city's manager, attorney and engineer and its police chief, on top of furloughs, deferred maintenance and other cost-saving measures. Those part-time administrators are also retirees, who supplement their city incomes with their pensions and save the city from not paying pensions for those positions.
The city council voted in April to begin a search for a full-time police chief, a move city administrators had hoped to defer until more funds were on hand. However the state's public employee retiree pension program has pushed the city to initiate a search for a more permanent police chief as it relies on part-timer Jim Wickham for at least the next few months.
The city's tactic of having Brennan and the city attorney and engineer technically work for third parties that the city contracts with has allowed those positions to remain part time for the time being.
Among the wish-list expenditures is doubling funding for the city manager's position to enable it to be full time ($100,000), $90,000 for a police chief (a difference of $40,000), and adding $25,000 to the city manager's contract, a $25,000 increase that "is a realistic estimate" of how much it would cost the city if Hal DeGraw were not filling that role, according to the expenditure document.
One suggested allocation is a $19,000 project to build a fence around Pioneer Cemetery, the county's oldest burial ground that the city chose not to hand off to a nonprofit group dedicated to preservation of such areas — even though officials have called the city's current maintenance of the grounds less than optimal.
Other items on the proposed expenditure list include eliminating furlough days ($55,000 annually), replacing roofs at city hall and at a city fire station, new computers and other office technology for certain city departments and replacement equipment for the police service and vehicles for public works and other departments and a $75,000 remodel of Pioneer Park's Seaman's Lodge, which has a roof that leaks and "severely" outdated bathrooms.
The suggested expenditures are just a starting point, Harris noted. Residents with other funding ideas should feel free to suggest them, she said.
"There is plenty of room for the Council to move things around," Brennan said.
One upcoming expenditure is not on the wish list: the independent $94,000 courthouse feasibility study that the Council supported the need for at its May 8 meeting but has yet to decide how much the city will contribute. Brennan told the Council that a suggested allocation toward that study would be presented to the Council at an upcoming meeting, but he has said the city cannot fund the entire study alone. He also did not rule out Measure L revenues as a funding source when asked by The Union.
Harris said the special meeting to debate expenditures of the added revenue was needed to have a comprehensive discussion of priorities rather than discussing allocations piecemeal over the coming years.
"Equally important is to get public input on it," she said. "We were hoping (the meeting) would generate interest and participation on the public's behalf."
Measure L will expire after five years. Brennan said that not only will the city have annual meetings on expenditures, but his suggestion would be to parse the funds out longer than the duration of the tax, he said.
Wednesday's meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. at Nevada City Hall, located at 317 Broad St. The city's website is http://nevadacityca.gov, where a staff report on Wednesday's meeting is expected Monday, Brennan said.
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 477-4236.
Correction: An earlier version of this article contained the wrong date for when the meeting will occur, due to inaccurate information provided to the public.