A local sales tax will be going to the ballot in one town in the Ross Valley this November.
Although , the Fairfax Town Council opted the following night to on the November ballot.
Council Members John Reed, Pam Hartwell-Herrero and Larry Bragman said they were in favor of a one percent tax, but the one percent proposal had opposition from the business community. The council opted instead to support something that had broad consensus.
“This is a phenomenal opportunity for us to push for the true financial sustainability you are asking us for,” argued Hartwell-Herrero of the one percent tax.
She noted that a one percent hike in the state sales tax had just expired, so the amount people would be paying if Fairfax raised its sales tax by one percent would be the same.
“I don’t think people are going to stop coming here because of a penny on the dollar,” she said. She went on the make an impassioned plea with the couple dozen residents in attendance that a full one percent sales tax hike could be the difference for the town, which is struggling with what will be a $200,000 deficit this year when the numbers are finalized. Otherwise, she said, the town would keep having to come back for more money and more – consider charging for parking, reducing services, not paving roads. “I grow weary of this subsistence living.”
Town Manager Michael Rock gave a presentation about the town budget in which he pointed out that revenues, from property and sales taxes, have been decreasing in the last five years. Though the town has made extensive cuts and is “bare bones,” he said, with the lowest number of employees per capita and the lowest paid employees of any town in Marin, without more revenues extensive service cuts would have to be made.
“Without any changes, the town budget is simply not sustainable,” said Rock.
Garry Graham, owner of , said he was shocked by the proposal to go forward with a one percent sales tax, since . Graham also said he was prepared to put up an opposition campaign to a one percent tax, which would cost his business thousands of dollars.
“One percent is an overreach,” he said.
“It’s a little bit ironic that some of the businesses that most benefit from those [public safety] services are most vocal in their opposition,” noted Mayor Bragman about the possibility of being forced to cut police services if the town isn’t able to find more revenue.
David Smadbeck, co-president of the and owner of the , also said he hoped the council didn’t move ahead with a one percent tax. Though he said he understands the tax is passed on to the customers, it changes the way customers think about tips and the bill and what they want to buy. The Sleeping Lady operates with just a five percent profit margin, so “one percent is a big deal,” he said.
The crowd was evenly split, more or less, between those in favor of a tax to support town services and those who feared it would ruin the downtown merchants.
In the end, the council opted to go with the 0.5 percent tax hike out of a desire to have a consensus and not divide the town over the issue.
“In the end, we wanted it to be a successful measure,” said Hartwell-Herrrero.
"I hear virtually no opposition to the half-cent tax," said Council Member Lew Tremaine, who urged everyone to remember that they're all in this together.