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Frank Hotchkiss: Santa Barbara Mayor Puts City First with Proposed Ballot Initiatives
You may have heard: Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider has proposed putting four measures on the city ballot for the upcoming November 2012 election.
The proposed measures are:
» 1. All city employees who participate in the California Public Employee Retirement System should pay their full share for their retirement rather than only part of it, as they now do. This would save the city $2 million to $2.5 million a year. Requiring the police, fire and other city employees to contribute fully to their own retirement will take the issue off the table in future contract negotiations. This has been a bone of contention for a long time, and frankly has given the unions a black eye in the public purview.
» 2. Downtown businesses that serve liquor after 11 p.m. — pretty much only the clubs — would have a business license fee increase to pay for the cost of police enforcement there, since the police have to focus so much attention on this part of town as the bars close. This would raise about $250,000 annually.
» 3. Add a half-cent sales tax citywide on everything purchased by all of us in the city (probably raising $10 million annually).
» 4. Agreement to split the results of the tax increase described in No. 3 evenly between the city and our schools.
Even in difficult economic times such as these, it may be desirable to seek more funds to accomplish civic goals, such as better and more successful handling of indigents, reopening the Main Library on Monday, increasing the number of police on the street and many other improvements. While the City Council could have undertaken these initiatives on its own, Schneider has wisely (in my opinion) turned to the public at large to establish your preference.
What happens next?
First, all four of the initiatives must garner enough voter signatures — about 9,000 — to be placed on the ballot. These must be collected by early June.
Secondly, a majority of us — you, me and our fellow citizens — must approve the measures at the ballot on Nov. 6, assuming enough signatures are obtained. Thus we have two opportunities to state our preferences: Once by signing on to this for the ballot, and a second time at the ballot itself.
Finally, the sales tax and the retirement contribution measures are interdependent. Both must pass, or neither passes. Either we are all contributing, including ourselves and our public employees, or none of us is.
As you can probably tell from the tone of this letter, I think the mayor’s initiatives are smart and courageous. She is putting herself in the crosshairs of fire, police and other unions for the sake of the city at large. She understands that any suggestion of a new tax is not going to win immediate or universal approval. And obviously the downtown clubs are going to object vociferously, although they haven’t been paying for their extra police coverage for years.
In closing, let me add that, unfortunately, Gov. Jerry Brown has emptied our purse for the sake of the state’s poor economic policies by shutting down our Redevelopment Agency and taking all the money we saved in it over the years. These initiatives seek to make up the difference.
I think it would be great to eliminate PERS contributions from labor negotiations and have the employees contribute all they should to their own retirement, just as you and I must do for ourselves. Our schools are operating in the red. Good schools are essential for a successful community. Without them, a city will deteriorate.
And I have always argued for more police and more effective social services to better handle the indigents who live — and die — on our streets. My goal remains to dramatically reduce or eliminate our public streets as a place to dwell.
Thank you for taking the time to read such a lengthy letter. For more on this, go to www.InvestInSantaBarbara2012.com, where Schneider explains it in greater detail.
— Frank Hotchkiss is a Santa Barbara city councilman.
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