Orinda plans to poll residents early next year to gauge support for extending a half-cent sales tax that was established in 2012.
The tax, which generates about $1.2 million in annual funding, is scheduled to end March 31, 2023, says City Clerk Sheri Smith.
“The polling will explore both keeping the tax at the current one-half cent, possibly increasing it to 1 cent and different lengths of time for it to be in effect,” says Orinda’s incoming mayor Darlene Gee.
The city polled residents when the tax was originally enacted, and asked Orindans how they wanted the money spent. Maintaining public roads was considered a top priority and that’s what has been done with the funds. The money is not used to maintain private roads — that’s the responsibility of residents who live on those roads. This time, the polling, being conducted by the city’s longtime polling firm FM3, will assess whether residents want to extend the tax, as well as what the funds should be spent on. FM3’s contract for the project is $28,000. The firm is expected to contact about 400 residents either by phone or email and will be looking for a cross section of randomly selected voters, according to City Manage Steve Salomon.
City Council member Amy Worth, who along with Gee heads up a subcommittee on the future of the tax, says city leaders have “no pre-conceived notions on how we should spend the money. We need to hear from the community as to their priorities. That continues to evolve.”
However, both Worth and Gee say they would like to see the poll show support for extending the tax. “I am hoping a new extension at some level will pass because it is very critical to our overall infrastructure funding in Orinda,” says Gee.
Citing the city’s limited funds, Worth says “There’s a very strong feeling that we need the resources.”
Evidence of Orinda’s funding problem is historical and is highlighted in a staff report on the poll prepared in June. It details how Orinda receives 7.39 cents of every dollar paid in property taxes. By contrast, Richmond receives 28.1 cents of every dollar of its property taxes, the highest in Contra Costa County. The lowest is Moraga at 5.32 cents per dollar, according to the report.
The reason for this is that Orinda was incorporated after the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978 and never levied its own property tax. Instead, the city had to negotiate with the county for its share of the property tax pie and ended up on the short end of the stick, according to the report.
Another problem Orinda faces is that it doesn’t have any major retailers such as car dealers. As the staff report points out, if an Orindan buys a car in Walnut Creek, the local 1 percent sales tax revenue generated on the sale of the car goes to Walnut Creek, not Orinda.
Other issues the poll will address include whether the tax should sunset or be permanent, if any of the funds should be used toward other projects or to “pay for some or all of the reconstruction and conversion of private streets to public,” says the report.
If the City Council votes to put the tax on the ballot next November it would need a 50 percent plus one vote margin to pass.
Reach Contributing Writer Paul Kilduff at firstname.lastname@example.org.