Shoppers' tax burden could rise

San Mateo — Warning that a budget deficit may force drastic cuts to city services and public safety agencies, city officials are asking voters to support a quarter-cent sales tax increase in November.

If approved, the sales tax would generate roughly $3.2 million, according to San Mateo City Manager Susan Loftus.

The money would go in the general fund, but the measure doesn’t require the city to use it for any particular services or programs.
It could go toward saving police and fire positions, funding street improvements, and sparing cuts to senior and youth services, among other uses, Loftus said.

“If it doesn’t pass we’ll have to make very significant cuts that affect both safety and quality of life in the entire community,” she said.

Those cuts could include staff reductions to the Police Department’s gang task force, drug crime unit or traffic division; closing libraries; and rotating fire station brownouts, Loftus said.

Already facing an $8 million structural budget deficit, the City Council this summer approved
$4 million in cuts to city operations.

If approved by a simple majority, the tax would last eight years. It would go into affect April 1.

San Mateo’s sales tax is currently 9.25 percent, similar to other major Peninsula cities, including Burlingame, Daly City, Redwood City and South San Francisco. San Francisco’s sales tax is 9.5 percent.

Among supporters of the measure are the Chamber of Commerce, Fire Fighters Association and Police Officers Association.

Although the added sales tax would increase the cost of goods purchased in the city, business owners told The Examiner that added pennies didn’t compare to the potential losses in city services.

“Hopefully people realize its minimal enough compared to the big picture,” said Susan Kazarian, owner of Bead Frenzy on El Camino Real. “It’s not that big of a hardship compared to what could be taken away.”

The board of the Downtown San Mateo Association also supports the measure, according to President Brian Berberet.

“Whenever there’s a marginal increase there is a concern,” he said, “but these are realistic needs of the community.”

San Mateo is also looking to increase hotel taxes visitors pay. That move would generate $800,000.

The city is not the only Peninsula municipality turning to voters for approval to increase revenue. Five other cities also have hotel tax increases on the ballot.

Additionally, in Redwood City, officials want to increase the business tax license by nearly 50 percent during the next three years.
Redwood City Finance Director Brian Ponte said the business license tax has not increased since 1994. If approved, the boost is expected to generate $650,000 for the city’s general fund.

Portola Valley is seeking an increase to its utility users tax. In Atherton, officials are asking voters to extend a parcel tax. San Carlos wants to increase its sales tax by a half-cent.

akoskey@sfexaminer.com

Proposed tax increases for residents and businesses in Peninsula cities that will appear on the November ballot include:
San Mateo

Measure L
A quarter-cent sales tax increase for eight years, with proceeds placed in the general fund
Redwood City

Measure Y
An increase of
16.7 percent each year for three years for business license taxes
Atherton

Measure S
Extension of a parcel tax for four years to raise $1.86 million annually
San Carlos

Measure U
A half-cent sales tax increase to generate $2.2 million annually
Portola Valley

Measure P
Renewal of a
4.5 percent utility tax for residents and businesses for four years

Sources: San Mateo Department of Elections, League of Women Voters

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