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Local News

Goleta Won’t Go For Library Tax Ballot Measure in November

City Council members also disappointed with progress made since vacation-rental ordinance was implemented

A tax measure for the November ballot likely won't be the solution to the Goleta Library's financial woes, as the Goleta City Council declined Tuesday to move forward with such a plan.

At its weekly meeting, the Council heard updates to the proposed ballot measure as well as the city's new short-term vacation-rental ordinance.

“I can’t support going forward in November,” Councilman Michael Bennett said of the tax proposal. “I don’t think it gives us enough time.

“It’s difficult enough to get anything approved, and then to do it at this late date, I just think would be unwise and would be potentially wasteful,” he said.

The parcel tax would have been applied to Community Service District 3, which encompasses eastern Goleta, and would have functioned like Measure L, the 1990 measure passed by residents to help fund the library through a graduated tax structure based on parcels’ residential or commercial type.

In April, county officials agreed to propose their own similar ballot measure, but ultimately came to the conclusion that theirs would have to be flat, per-parcel tax structure.

In part because of the confusion that could be caused by concurrent tax measures with the same purpose but different tax structures, city staff proposed holding off a ballot measure until a future election, allowing them more time to explore other options.

The council directed staff to explore what cuts can be made to the library that would allow it to fill its vacant Children’s Librarian position and save its financial reserves.

Staff members were also directed to to work with their county counterparts to develop new revenue and financial options.

The Goleta Library’s reserves are expected to run out by fiscal year 2017-2018.

In addition to savings from the vacant Children’s Librarian position and cuts to operating hours, the city is adding $50,000 to its yearly contribution to the Library.

With these adjustments, the fiscal year 2016–2017 budget being drafted projects revenues of $1,308,802, but expenditures of $1,576,868.

Also requiring more work, the council determined Tuesday, is the short-term vacation-rental ordinance, which has generated its first permit applicants. 

The number of rentals identified in the city, however, falls far short of what the council had expected.

The vacation-rental ordinance, adopted in February 2015 and in effect since July, is administered by the city Finance Department and requires owners to apply for a permit to operate their rentals.

It also established a registry of vacation rentals intended to ensure owners are paying transient-occupancy taxes and warning neighbors that a vacation rental is being operated within 200 feet of their properties.

The maximum occupancy for a rental is set at two, with another two per bedroom.

After surveying vacation rental sites like Airbnb, the city identified 19 properties in town that are operating rentals.

Only four returned the registration packets mailed out to them, leading the city to issue non-compliance notices to the other 15.

Even after a second round of packets were mailed out to another, more recently-discovered batch of vacation rentals, which elicited several more responses, the number of identified rentals fell far short of what the city had expected.

Bennett said he was “mystified” that so few had been identified, given a 2010 census survey that discovered more than 200 in Goleta.

Vacation-rental websites are not always very clear when it comes to identifying properties near the city’s boundaries, Finance Director Genie Wilson said.

“It’s almost like a hunt and peck system that we’re doing right now with the system that’s available to us,” she said.

The application requires a $75 fee, a plan for responding to complaints from neighbors, proof of Transient Occupancy Registration, a $1,500 bond to ensure compliance, and proof that neighbors have been notified.

If the rental transaction takes place within the city, a Goleta business license is also required.

The options for owners who don’t comply include mailing out another noncompliance letter, sending out code enforcement, and taking legal action — the latter based on the owners’ failing to pay transient-occupancy taxes.

There is no excuse, Councilman Roger Aceves said, for owners to not comply, even if they have failed to hear about the ordinance.

“Any time we pass an ordinance, that’s a priority of this council,” he said.

Aceves expressed his disappointment at what he said was very little done to implement the ordinance.

“I’m not happy with what I’m seeing here,” he said.

Wilson said that her department could return in three months with further research into what vacation-rental properties have or may have eluded the city’s recent searches.

Noozhawk staff writer Sam Goldman can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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