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The Galt City Council members consider whether to place a sales tax measure on the November ballot. Council met Aug. 4 in the community room at the Galt Police Department.

In a special meeting on Aug. 4, Galt City Council decided unanimously to put a 1-cent sales tax increase before voters. The members voiced their reluctance to propose new taxes, but most felt it would be necessary to adequately fund the city’s parks and recreation, and landscaping maintenance.

Over the course of the two-and-a-half-hour discussion, the contours of the proposed tax emerged: It would be a general-purpose 1% sales tax, projected to raise $3.6 million annually.

Galt’s current sales tax is 8.25%, and it would rise to 9.25% if the measure were approved. Among cities in Sacramento County, Galt currently has a midrange sales tax. Several cities, like Elk Grove, have the county base rate of 7.75%, and three, including Sacramento, have a rate of 8.75%.

The discussion initially concerned whether to choose a general or a special sales tax. A general sales tax needs only a simple majority among voters to pass, and the city council controls how the revenue is spent. A special tax needs a two-thirds vote, and the revenue must be spent for the purpose or purposes specified in the text.

A poll commissioned by the city showed simple majorities of likely Galt voters in support of either kind of tax, but the special tax was not getting the two-thirds it would need. As a result, Council made plans to consider a general tax while also adopting an expenditure policy. The resolution would declare Council’s priorities for spending the revenue, but it avoids creating a special tax because it can be amended or overturned by a Council vote.

The draft spending plan that staff presented at the August meeting included three categories of spending: parks and recreation, landscaping and “other quality of life issues.”

The quality-of-life section listed the following areas: “911 emergency response and support for public safety, prevention of trash/blight/illegal dumping on publicly-maintained property, and road repair, rehabilitation, and maintenance, as deemed necessary by the City Council.”

Council Member Jay Vandenburg and Vice Mayor Paul Sandhu said they favored a special tax. Sandhu said that the spending policy might persuade him to support a general measure.

Vandenburg said the wording of the spending plan was too vague.

“The way the resolution is written, it’s just for anything. There’s too many landmines in here,” Vandenburg said, pointing to the mentions of maintenance and road repair. He also pointed to the spending plan’s title, which calls the tax an “essential services measure.”

Vandenburg also proposed adding a sunset provision to the measure, but this suggestion did not gain traction.

Speaking in public comment, Jerry Sauter said he lives in one of Galt’s lighting and landscaping districts, which receive subsidies from the General Fund because they aren’t able to raise enough money to cover expenses. Sauter asked why the city is asking residents to pay more and said the city is taking “the easiest path possible.”

Mayor Shawn Farmer responded that, while the city is doing what it can with the funds it has, the reduced service levels have resulted in complaints from residents. He said other options to raise revenue, such as encouraging growth, are unpopular.

On the tax rate, Council faced an additional division. Vandenburg and Sandhu preferred a half-cent tax while Council Members Rich Lozano and Kevin Papineau supported a full cent.

Lozano said he had two criteria for his support for putting the tax before voters: “Frivolous spending” had to be gone, and Lozano had to know that the people wanted a tax measure.

“Those two things have been – I believe – accomplished,” Lozano said.

Farmer attempted to find a compromise; the tax measure needed the support of at least four council members to go on the ballot.

Though Papineau expressed openness to supporting a half-cent measure, he said it “barely addresses the current shortfall” in the city’s lighting and landscaping districts without leaving much money to begin restoring parks and rec services.

Earlier in the meeting, Papineau said he was in favor of advancing the measure because of “vital” services that the city can’t fund.

“I think it just boils down to, I’ve heard the voice of the people, and I’m ready to put it on the ballot and let them have their say. … How I would personally punch my ballot for the tax is not an issue,” Papineau said.

Support ultimately coalesced around the 1-cent general tax, with the stipulation that the expenditure plan be modified so that the funds would be targeted narrowly at parks and rec. Council asked staff to remove the quality-of-life section and include a list of the specific parks and thoroughfares whose upkeep will be supported by the tax. The edited resolution will be presented at a future meeting.

The council members voted 5-0 in favor of putting the tax measure on the ballot. Several of them explained their reasoning as they voted.

Sandhu said he voted yes because the measure “is a better chance for the city, especially parks and recreation, to receive funds through a general tax measure versus a special tax.” He emphasized that his support was contingent on the money going to parks and rec.

Vandenburg said he didn’t support the tax and considered it “rushed.” However, he said he voted yes out of an “overriding commitment to allow people to decide if they wish to levy the tax themselves.”

“I think none of us want to be up here … pushing for a tax,” Farmer said. He said the sales tax measure is a chance for residents to decide how they want to fund services they are requesting.