Fairfax Considers a Local Sales Tax

Half-cent sales tax could go to Fairfax voters in November; discussions will continue in coming months.

A half-cent may not seem like much. But, if Fairfax approves it, a half-cent sales tax could generate close to $160,000 for the town.

For a town with a $6.9 million operating budget and a lot of cuts in its future if some form of revenue isn’t found, $160,000 could help close a growing budget hole.

“We’re being inundated with new costs,” said Vice Mayor Pam Hartwell-Herrero. CalPERS costs for the town rose 17 percent this year, she pointed out. With the economic downturn and state budget woes, towns across California are trying to find ways to balance their budgets. “A lot of towns are responding to that by laying off people and cutting services.”

At a special meeting on March 16, the town council discussed the possibility of bringing a half-cent sales tax to the Fairfax voters. The idea is still very much in the preliminary stages and will come back to the council at its April 6 meeting and probably at another community workshop. In addition, Hartwell-Herrero said they plan to bring the chamber and business owners in to discuss the tax.

The council has until August to decide if it will put the measure on the November ballot. It must also decide if the funds the tax raises will be for the general fund (requiring a simple majority vote) or will have a specific purpose (requiring a two-thirds vote).

The council has previously considered it and a to save money. The Master Fee schedule was updated last year to help the town more accurately cover its costs and staff have gone without raises in three years, said Hartwell-Herrero.

“The idea would be to spread the pain to people who come and visit the community,” she said of the local sales tax, noting that it is not something anyone is excited about, but simply a possible step to address budget problems.

Marin County currently has a nine percent sales tax, but local towns and cities get only one percent, or about $365,000 for Fairfax. More than half of the collected sales tax stays with the state, said Town Manager Michael Rock, while the county keeps another percent. In addition, Marin has special taxes, like the one-quarter cent sales tax to fund the SMART train and a half-cent sales tax that goes to the Transportation Authority of Marin.

But, a Fairfax half-cent sales tax would all go directly to the town, not the state or county.

Fairfax residents have in the past twice supported a five-year $125 parcel tax, known first as Measure F and renewed as Measure I. If the council decides to put the local sales tax on the ballot, it is expected that a similar political campaign will be waged in town.

Rock said that so far “we’re having fairly positive responses [about the tax].” He said that mostly residents have had questions about how it would work and how much it would raise. Residents, he said, are knowledgeable about the budget crisis and problems. “They’re very much aware of what’s going on.”


Bennett Hamer March 24, 2011 at 03:27 PM
Keely: Would be great if you could do a follow up story as to why the CAL PERS costs are going up 17%. I wouldn't deny a teacher, police or fireman an inch of retirement, but why do CALPERS costs raise more than five times the rate of inflation. HMMM Good news story, ya think?
Kelly Dunleavy O'Mara March 24, 2011 at 05:16 PM
From my understanding, the rise this year is because CalPERS made some investments that suffered more than other things in the economic/housing meltdown, so cities across the state are seeing their costs skyrocket, because the CalPERS fund doesn't have as much money to pay retirements out. But, I'll certainly follow up.
Bennett Hamer March 24, 2011 at 11:09 PM
Thanks Kelly! I appreciate your diligence. Interestingly, the economic metldown happened about two years ago so I understand why the costs/lossses went up last year, but are they continuingf to amortize their losses over time? I live in San Anselmo, but even a half cent increase in sales tax makes me think twice about shopping in Fairfax.
Georgia Gibbs April 29, 2011 at 08:50 PM
I moved to Fairfax in 2003. Almost every election since that time has had a ballot measure regarding funding for the town of Fairfax and/or services related to the town. Some of the votes have been to extend existing bonds and others have been requests for new funding. All warned of dire circumstances the community would face if we did not pass them. We seem to have a break down in government that has nothing to do with the current fiscal crisis. We want a vital community that offers services to the community and draws visitors to enjoy and spend. Is this ever the focus of our elected officials? There is always lots of talk from the council but I never hear discussion about ways to generate income for the town that would be sustainable and long term. I also never hear about what they can do to help foster a healthier climate for existing businesses. They keep crying poor and looking for ways to dig deeper in our pockets but they don't bring any vision or ideas of their own to the table. I, for one, am ready for a new crew down there. I would also like to see limits on the number of years any one person can be in service to the city, no matter what the office.
Jory Prum October 16, 2011 at 04:59 PM
Perhaps a better story would be why the Town of Fairfax spent 24% more overall in 2010 than in 2005, even when you exclude payroll cost increases...
Jory Prum October 16, 2011 at 05:00 PM
If you have questions about Measure D, here's a Q&A with a Fairfax voter: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QLgsKwoducU
Jory Prum October 16, 2011 at 05:03 PM
How right you are that there's a problem that has nothing to do with the financial crisis. The Town took in $2.7 mil more revenues than expected from 2005-2010, yet they still managed to spend an addition $2.3 mil during that period. On top of that, they can't even manage to do basic math regarding what percentage of expenditures the Town pays in payroll. (The Town Manager says it's 80%, but the budget makes it clear that it's 59.53%.) And no one on the Town Council even questions these obviously ludicrous numbers! For more info, please see my analysis at http://FairfaxSaysNo.com
E. Williams October 16, 2011 at 10:47 PM
Does anybody know what the town spent on the Fairbuck campaign? Does the town get any money back from the Fairbuck?
Jory Prum October 16, 2011 at 10:54 PM
I believe it was a $4,500 donation, which was the money Marin Clean Energy had just paid back to the Town. The Town has a budgeted item for Donations, which I believe it fell under. The FairBuck is a project of the Chamber of Commerce and Sustainable Fairfax, I think.
E. Williams October 18, 2011 at 10:23 PM
thanks Jory.


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something