Since Goleta’s efforts to renegotiate its revenue-neutrality agreement with Santa Barbara County went nowhere last fall, City Manager Dan Singer is suggesting launching a public education campaign to get residents engaged — and, hopefully, put some political pressure on the county to reconsider.
Goleta had to pay a large portion of its sales tax, bed tax and property tax revenues to the county until 2012 as part of the deal it made to incorporate in 2002. Most of those conditions expired after the city reached its 10-year anniversary.
There’s no end date for property taxes, however, so Goleta is stuck giving away half its revenues indefinitely.
According to Singer, Goleta paid more than $80 million during the city’s first 10 years for services that may not directly benefit city residents.
After Goleta’s latest round of county negotiations ended with no positive results — like they always do — there was a push by the City Council to draw attention to this issue, Singer said.
He said the city thought the loss of its Redevelopment Agency would make the county take a fresh look at the agreement, which led to the talks last October.
“We were quite hopeful that we were dealing in good faith with another party that was going to be responsive to us,” Singer said. “Since it didn’t result in any changes to the revenue-neutrality agreement, it has, I think, created a little greater interest in the council to invest in further outreach and education.”
Political pressure on the county isn’t something county staff will get directly involved in, “but if that’s an outcome that comes from helping inform people, then that’s appropriate,” he said.
On Tuesday, the City Council will discuss funding a contract with the GrassrootsLab public relations firm to start an outreach and education campaign.
Singer said the city manager department’s budget had already earmarked $30,000 for a public opinion survey, but the council might allocate another $60,000 for the contract and outreach materials.
Since the city pays $5 million every year, investing in an educational campaign could be worthwhile, Singer wrote in a staff report.
The public opinion survey is already under way, gauging Goleta residents’ interest and how much they know about the revenue-neutrality agreement. The phone survey started Friday and will continue for about 10 days, city spokeswoman Valerie Kushnerov said.
“It’s to better understand what the public’s understanding of the revenue-neutrality agreement is and what people think about it, whether it’s fair and whether it should be continued in perpetuity, which is different than every other city in the state,” she said.
If the City Council approves the GrassrootsLab contract, the firm will help the city with an education campaign to inform voters about the agreement and why it’s important, Kushnerov said.
The county has no financial or political incentive to renegotiate the agreement, which requires Goleta to pay about $5 million a year in local taxes, Singer said. The county Board of Supervisors showed no interest in changing or modifying the agreement in October, he said.
There was a three-year window to reopen the agreement, but Goleta’s original City Council members had no reason to “pull that trigger” since they were the ones who signed it, Singer said.
The original council members — Jean Blois, Cynthia Brock, Margaret Connell, Jack Hawxhurst and Jonny Wallis — were elected in November 2001 and served until that window had closed. Blois and Wallis were re-elected in 2004.
“So that was kind of a missed opportunity, but I also understand why they didn’t find it to be a priority,” Singer said. “After all, they negotiated the agreement.”
Renegotiating the agreement was a successful campaign issue for challengers Roger Aceves, Michael Bennett and Eric Onnen, who swept out three of the original council members in the 2006 election: Brock, Connell and Hawxhurst.
The attempts at negotiating have had some success, said Singer, who cited the county’s decision to forgive a $1.5 million startup loan to the city.
“Unfortunately, there wasn’t a lot else that accompanied that,” he said.
Tuesday’s City Council meeting starts at 1:30 p.m. in the City Hall council chambers at 130 Cremona Drive, Suite B.