Mid-April may not seem the most appropriate time to talk about taxes. The IRS filing deadline is looming and Big Brother is watching.
On the other hand, taxes are what help provide government programs and services for all of us. One has to wonder what our communities would be without various forms of taxation.
The taxes we are referring to in this case are not the federal kind — but don’t forget that late filers have an extra couple of days to get their 1040s and payment check to the IRS; the deadline has been extended until midnight Tuesday.
Instead, we're talking about the quarter-cent sales tax approved by voters in the passage of Measure U during the summer of 2012. The City Council put the measure on the ballot after declaring a fiscal emergency, the turnout was good, and Measure U needed only a simple majority for passage but received nearly two-thirds of the vote. It’s always helpful when citizens are tuned into what’s happening in their community.
Santa Maria officials late last year OK’d the hiring of a public-opinion research outfit, specifically to test the waters for possibly extending the Measure U sales tax.
The bottom line is that about three-quarters of likely voters surveyed said they either “probably” or “definitely” supported extending Measure U funding.
That tells us, as it should tell members of the City Council, that renewing the quarter-cent sales tax probably is a ballot-box slam dunk, and the council should put the renewal question on the ballot, sooner rather than later. The measure was originally scheduled to sunset nine years after its initial passage.
The Measure U ballot win resulted in bumping up the sales tax from 7.75 percent to 8 percent. Funds raised by the tax were allocated for services such as neighborhood police patrols, fire protection, 911 emergency response, gang suppression and other essential city services.
It seems likely the key motivator for renewing the tax is the beefed-up public-safety programs, especially involving the effort the city — specifically the Police Department — has made in tamping down youth gang violence.
As strong as that effort has been, there remains residual youth crime activity. Now is not the time to pull back resources necessary to continuing such an effective effort.
The survey’s 74-percent approval for renewing the sale tax makes a powerful statement from the voting, taxpaying public. Any time citizens are willing to pay more out-of-pocket expenses to improve their community, policy makers need to take notice.
The survey’s telephone interviews averaged nearly 20 minutes, and respondents were asked a litany of questions to determine which issues are most important to them.
Residents expressed strong support for public-safety services, and prioritized maintaining and enhancing police, anti-gang and at-risk youth programs.
Another reason policy makers need to take notice is that the survey revealed relatively strong support for the overall direction Santa Maria is headed. Nearly 52 percent of respondents approved of the track the city is on, compared to just more than 31 percent who hold the opposite view.
Another strong indicator is that 48 percent are generally satisfied with city services, and more than 26 percent rated themselves “very satisfied.” Less than 10 percent of respondents put themselves in the “very dissatisfied” category.
City officials expressed pleasure — and probably more than a little relief — with the survey outcome, as they should. Putting taxpayer money to good use is an art form, one not practiced or enjoyed with much success at so many levels of government.