Measure E supporters point to need to fund Grass Valley services | TheUnion.com

Measure E supporters point to need to fund Grass Valley services

Daniel Swartzendruber calls his advocacy for Measure E — a sales tax measure designed to improve parks, streets and safety in Grass Valley — a passion project.

"We want to make Grass Valley a better place," he said.

Swartzendruber and other supporters of the measure, which would repeal the existing half-percent sales tax instituted by Measure N and replace it with an ongoing 1 percent sales tax, say the need for capital to fund infrastructure improvements and maintenance for the city is inarguable.

They point to the fiscal impact of Measure N, which has been in place for five years, citing major projects like the paving of Brunswick Road, the purchase of two fire engines and two new police vehicles as examples of the very real improvements.

"The new measure would make that (funding) permanent, which is huge," Swartzendruber said. Measure N is set to expire in 2022 if voters don't approve Measure E.

Proponents point to the fact that Grass Valley has a population of just 12,000 — but the city sees nearly 30,000 visitors on a daily basis.

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"Grass Valley is the economic hub of western Nevada County," Swartzendruber said. "A sales tax makes sense, because everyone who comes to Grass Valley is contributing."

Supporters pointed out that even with the sales tax increase of 0.5 percent, Grass Valley will still be 0.25 percent less than the sales tax in Nevada City.

Marty Lombardi acknowledged some residents are tired of being taxed and worry the money will be responsibly spent.

According to Lombardi, before he became involved with Measure N and, now, Measure E, he carefully reviewed the level of oversight over the finances.

"The oversight committee has done a great job," he said.

Measure E is estimated to raise approximately $5.4 million annually. The tax has no expiration date, but voters could reduce or repeal it at any election. A Citizen's Oversight Board will review an independent audit of tax receipts and how they are spent each year and advise the City Council on how tax money should be spent. The council must discuss the audit results at a public meeting each year and post them on the city's website.

"I really believe in my heart the community has to take on more responsibility for the services they want, the parks they want, the streets they want," Lombardi said. "If there's anything the recession taught us, is that we can't rely on state and federal revenue streams. … We have to care for our community."

Lombardi notes that the police department still has not returned to its pre-recession staffing levels, dropping from 31 to 20 and adding five through Measure N funding. Measure E money would bring in four new officers for a total of 29, Lombardi said, adding, "It's a much-needed service."

The new sales tax would also help fund four additional fire personnel certified as paramedics, providing them the ability to provide advanced life support services. Currently, Lombardi said, Grass Valley's trucks have to rely on ambulance services for paramedics.

Street and parks will also benefit, Measure E proponents say.

"The streets are a mess," Lombardi said, adding that Measure N was able to add 13 lane miles of permanent pavement as well as new sidewalks and curb ramps throughout the city.

Swartzendruber pointed to the bathrooms at Memorial Park as one much-needed fix, along with play structures and fields. Improving the city's parks, he said, will bring in more families and discourage problems with vagrancy.

"Everything needs work," he said.

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at lizk@theunion.com.

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