At the Lake: Council postpones tax measure for more police officers and firefighters | RecordCourier.com

At the Lake: Council postpones tax measure for more police officers and firefighters

by Adam Jensen

Voters will not be asked to decide on a tax measure to pay for additional South Lake Tahoe police and firefighters in February, the city council decided Thursday.

At a workshop that included a variety of stakeholders, the council formed a committee to examine possibilities for raising at least $1.5 million per year to fund nine additional city firefighters and four more police officers.

Representatives from South Lake Tahoe’s police and fire departments at Thursday’s workshop voiced the need for additional staff to adequately protect public safety.

“Our staffing is at a critical level,” said South Lake Tahoe Police Chief Terry Daniels.

According to city staff, a tax increase may be necessary to fund the positions during what is looking to be a tight budget year.

“We just don’t have a lot of growth in this city,” city Finance Director Christine Vuletich said at the workshop. “Our revenues grow pretty much 2 to 3 percent per year. We’re looking at a new revenue source.”

Over the past 11 months, city revenue from its hotel/motel tax (known as the transient occupancy tax) has decreased 8 percent to 10 percent, and revenue from sales tax has dropped by approximately 8 percent, Vuletich said.

Both the slow 2006-07 winter season and the Angora fire were cited as reasons for the drop.

Possibilities for a tax measure include increasing the city’s transient occupancy tax, raising the city’s sales tax or enacting a special parcel tax, according to a city staff report.

While supporting the increase of public safety personnel, several representatives from Lake Tahoe’s lodging industry disagreed with raising the city’s transient occupancy tax, saying it could hurt business and may have unknown consequences.

“When you raise the transient occupation tax, you lose customers,” said Pat Ronan, a director for the South Lake Tahoe Lodging Association. “The question is: Where do you draw the line? Doing it this quickly might be a lot more dangerous than we think.”

South Lake Tahoe Mayor Kathay Lovell, Councilman Ted Long and councilman Mike Weber, who participated in the workshop by phone, said they were inclined to raise money for the additional personnel by enacting a special parcel tax.

To meet the minimum funding requirements for 13 new public safety personnel, the parcel tax would have to be $134 per year for 11,200 South Lake Tahoe properties, Vuletich said.

If the city’s 7,800 timeshare parcels are included in the tax, the money needed per parcel could be lowered to $55 per year, Vuletich said.

A public hearing and four yes votes from city council members are required before a special parcel tax can be placed on the ballot. Residents could be asked to vote on a tax measure to fund the additional personnel in a March special election.

For the measure to be included in a March election, it must be presented to the El Dorado County Elections Division by Dec. 7, said William Schultz, county recorder-clerk-registrar of voters.