Sales tax committee drafts ballot language proposal

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The proposed half-cent increase is estimated to bring in $1 million to $1.5 million in annual revenue for the city.

By Kevin Connelly/Special to The Malibu Times

A special sales tax committee meeting at City Hall on Friday focused primarily on how the city would allocate the funds if the proposal to raise Malibu’s sales tax a half cent ultimately received the required 66 and two thirds percent of the city’s electorate vote for passage.

To receive enough votes to pass the tax, raising it from 8.25 percent to 8.75 percent “is nearly impossible” Mayor Sharon Barovsky said at a December City Council meeting.

The November Los Angeles County vote on Measure A, which would have raised the county sales tax by the same margin, garnered only 60 percent of the vote when 66 and two thirds percent was required for passage. This countywide vote bested the city of Malibu, which voted 56 percent in favor of the half-cent sales tax increase.

Committee co-chair and education activist Laura Rosenthal introduced the proposal’s ballot language at the meeting, which stipulates that the estimated $1 million to $1.15 million annual revenue from the sales tax would be used for police, emergency and disaster services; youth, senior, educational, recreational and cultural programs; recreational facilities; and parks and open space acquisition.

The ballot language effectively restricts where the tax money can go, but some meeting attendees said they were concerned there was no definitive way to determine how to spend this tax money within the restrictions given. For example, under this proposal, 100 percent of the tax revenue could theoretically be used on police services one year while 100 percent of the revenue could be used on youth services the next.

The ballot language calls for a citizen oversight committee to resolve this issue of contention. Rosenthal suggested in a phone interview that this committee could include five citizens, each elected by one city council member and two others chosen at large. Although the citizen oversight committee would advise the City Council upon the proper distribution of the tax revenue, some said this process could still become arbitrary and unfair.

“We have to be able to give more direction to the City Council,” said community activist Tom Fakehany, who has opposed tax measures in past elections. “Commissioners should represent the various groups [benefiting from the sales tax increase] … [These various groups will be] battling each other for this tax money. We need more direction.”

There was also significant support of the citizen’s oversight committee.

Patt Healy, a member of the Coalition for Slow Growth, defended the citizen’s oversight committee and the flexible annual distribution of the sales tax revenue.

“Long-term tax priorities change from year to year,” Healy said. “[We] don’t want to lock [the city] into priorities.”

The ballot language will be brought before the City Council for approval at its Jan. 24 meeting.

Rosenthal said she hopes the city of Malibu could hold a special election for the sales-tax increase in June.

“I believe the City Council will appoint a well-rounded group to coordinate the issue,” Rosenthal said. “I’d hope everyone could remain apolitical about it. To go forward with this sales tax would provide [the city] with the amenities and services it needs.”