A few weeks ago, I asked for our Chamber members’ thoughts regarding the City proposed ½ cent sales tax increase on the November ballot. The responses we received varied from “I don’t like it, but I’d vote yes.” to “It’s a tax increase, so I’ll vote no.” We took those responses to heart.
At the July Board Meeting, the Chamber Board of Directors met with City Manager Steve Schwabauer to discuss what this ½ cent sales tax would do for the city. Also, to search for alternative options to fund the city’s growing Public Employees’ Retirement System (PERS) problem. From the two-hour discussion, the Chamber Board of Directors voted to support the ½ cent sales tax increase. The vote was not unanimous, and it took all of the two-hours to come to the decision.
There are many ways of looking at this tax increase, and most people will find fault that the funds will be added to the General Fund. City Manager Schwabauer assured the Board an oversight committee would be assigned by the City Council. There will also be discord in the fact some see this tax increase as a “Pension Fund” bill. City Manager Schwabauer pointed out that no matter what, the PERS bill must be paid. California State law prevents the City of Lodi from not paying into PERS as the City has contracted with them for Defined Retirement Plans. However, there is a buy-out option from the contract to a tune of $500,000,000- an amount the City cannot afford. The Board is convinced there is no other option.
It is very difficult for our Chamber of Commerce to be in support of a sales tax increase. But it is the Chamber Board’s opinion our diminished police presence will only get worse, and the Chamber believes your business investment in the community is at greater risk than the distaste for a tax increase. The Chamber also believes that there would be a growing risk in slowing tourism. Tourists- under this proposed sales tax increase- would assist in paying approximately 25% of the tax increase revenue.
For the Board to vote to support the tax increase, they listed two conditions to the City Manager and City Council: 1. The Chamber would need to have representation on the Oversight Committee and 2. that there be an education campaign to inform the citizens of Lodi’s dire position in terms of public safety. The reason why the Chamber Board wants representation on the Oversight Committee is to ensure the funds will be used for public safety purposes- with a majority going to the Police Department. The Board also wants to nominate people to the Oversight Committee who are known by many people in the community, and who are also known for their integrity and honesty as individuals.
In closing, the Chamber Board’s main priority is to ensure public safety, including business property and residential homes. With a diminished police presence, loss of firefighters, lack of maintenance to our roads and parks, Lodi would lose the “livability” we’ve all grown accustomed too. We want new businesses to come in and bring new jobs, we want families to buy homes and raise their children here, and we want local business to thrive and succeed. If raising the sales tax from 7.75% to 8.25% can help Lodi be kept loveable and livable, it is a measure we- at the Chamber- can get behind. I will be speaking at City Council tonight to address the Chamber’s support, along with our conditions to make this a successful tax increase for our community. Thank you for those who shared their input on the matter; your opinions were brought before the Board of Directors and were weighed heavily before the decision was made.
President and CEO Lodi District Chamber of Commerce