San Carlos considering utility tax to halt growing deficit

Voters could soon be asked to weigh in on a utility tax aimed at closing the city’s structural deficit, estimated at $3 million and growing.

City Manager Mark Weiss has suggested a broad range of taxes and fees, but at the top of his list is a utility tax that could go before voters as soon as November. Unlike its neighbors in Redwood City, San Carlos doesn’t charge a utility tax, but council members wrestled with that concept Tuesday night.

The taxes are charged on utility bills for residences and businesses, including water and telephone. In other cities, they can range from 2 percent to 4 percent of users’ monthly costs.

“The past couple of years have been relatively good years, and we’ve been making cuts,” Weiss said. “Now we’re seeing a downturn.”

San Carlos has cut more than 10 positions in City Hall in recent years. It has also contracted its police dispatch services to Menlo Park, reduced its police force by six officers and a sergeant, and closed the Youth Center for part of the weekend, Assistant City Manager Brian Moura said.

While revenues should increase 2 percent to 4 percent per year during the next few years, expenses are expected to grow 5 percent to 7 percent, according to Weiss. That’s partly because San Carlos has taken on a larger share of costs for the Belmont-San Carlos Fire Department and approved pricier benefits packages for current and retired employees, Moura said.

“We have endured several years of cuts, our labor contracts will be renegotiated this July, and it’s safe to say they’re not going tobe smaller,” Councilmember Omar Ahmad said.

Residents have pushed the city to hire more police officers, Councilmember Matt Grocott said. But other residents are asking for better sidewalks, safer pedestrian options and a menu of wish-list items, from a public pool to a sports complex, Moura said.

“I’m not strongly in favor of [a utility tax], but I don’t mind putting it to the citizens to decide whether to tax themselves,” Grocott said.

The City Council would have until early August to develop the terms of a proposed utility tax for the November ballot, according to City Clerk Christine Boland.

San Carlos voters historically have not favored taxes, including two for the Fire Department and one for a city shuttle.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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