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Visalia’s Measure N sales tax hike big on promises, short on reality

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Visalia’s Measure N sales tax hike big on promises, short on reality

Essentially, this is a $10.8 million blank check handed to the City Council. Every year. In perpetuity.

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Visalia is one of the best cities in the San Joaquin Valley to call home. We enjoy a vibrant downtown with fantastic places to dine and entertain, great schools, and we are situated just a short drive away from the Sierra Nevada and California’s Central Coast.

All of this at just a fraction of the cost of living facing Southern Californians and Bay Area residents.

In a recent poll performed by the Citizens Advisory Committee, 93% of Visalia residents said they enjoy this high quality of life that our city offers. We should aim to continuously improve the place we call home and promote what makes this city great.

Our city leaders are convinced that Visalians must approve a $10.8 million annual sales tax hike to maintain this quality of life. Despite claims that the revenue will strictly be set aside for public safety, road maintenance and addressing our homelessness crisis, the tax revenue actually goes to the City’s General Fund and can be spent on each and every whim of the City Council.

When drafting this tax hike, city leaders failed to include a concrete expenditure plan, opting for a so-­called “initial plan.” This is nothing more than a pencil sketch – it can be changed at any time.

Essentially, this is a $10.8 million blank check handed to the City Council. Every year. In perpetuity.

That’s right: there is no sunset clause or expiration date on this tax hike.

Who wouldn’t want to hire more cops and firefighters? Who wouldn’t want to enjoy perfectly manicured parks? These are all critical components to a vibrant, growing city.

But according to the City Manager’s most recent Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, sales tax revenue accounted for $21.6 million in 2015, the largest annual accrual of sales tax revenue in our city’s history.

The Tulare County Taxpayers Association – like voters across Tulare County – would offer serious consideration to a tax measure that met two criteria: First, provide full transparency with a clear-cut spending plan with a specific scope. Second, demonstrate that a significant need exists for the increase in taxes.

On both accounts, the City falls short.

It’s opaque spending “sketch” does not provide guarantees to hardworking taxpayers that it will stick to its promises and provides temptation to spend our money on their pet projects. Measure R (Tulare County) and Measure T (City of Visalia) were both built on a clear, concrete expenditure plan that cannot be changed – regardless of who holds office.

And with Visalia’s tax revenues rising to record highs, it is unconvincing that the City Council cannot reprioritize the budget to dedicate more funding to public safety and other quality-of-life departments.

If Visalia’s need for public safety, roads, and essential services truly is beyond the limits of our current revenue, then let’s vote on a sales tax that guarantees our dollars will be spent accordingly.

Measure N does not accomplish this. And a vote against Measure N in November is not a vote against our police officers, firefighters, or road maintenance crews. It is a vote against a $10.8 million annual blank check handed to politicians with zero accountability.

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Chris Telfer

Chris Telfer is the President of the Tulare County Taxpayers Association and a member of Tulare County’s Measure R Commission.

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