City Manager Valerie Barone came to Tuesday night's Concord City Council meeting with a compelling argument for why a proposed nine-year extension of the Measure Q half-cent sales tax -- due to expire in March 2016 -- should be placed before voters on the November ballot.
Without the extension, she said, bad things are apt to follow -- staffing cuts, reductions in police programs, closure of community centers, deferred maintenance of parks and roads. With the extension? Uninterrupted city services, contributions to reserves and funding for much-needed infrastructure repairs.
So, the options again: Thunderstorms and tornadoes or blue skies and sunny weather?
"It's only the voters who can decide whether to extend Measure Q," she reminded council members. "Council's role is in deciding whether voters should have a say in whether Measure Q is extended."
Inasmuch as the 2010 Measure Q came with a five-year sunset -- it was presented as a stopgap during harsh economic times -- a cynic might expect some public resistance to a proposed extension nearly twice as long. That doesn't appear to be the case. Tuesday's meeting was sparsely attended, and only one resident spoke against it.
Moreover, a city-commissioned survey reported that more than 68 percent of residents view an extension favorably. They are especially supportive of the funds going for 911 services, neighborhood police patrols and gang prevention. Using the funds to pay for employee raises probably wouldn't score as well.
Council members, who unanimously approved putting the proposal on the ballot, seem confident it will pass. For one thing, no one likes tornadoes. For another, a sales tax is innocuous. Who knows how many dollars it will actually cost you? It's not like a property tax assessment in black and white.
Besides, as advocates say: This isn't a tax hike; it's an extension of one. It's not a new splinter in your finger; it's one that's already there.
At least one aspect of Concord's approach to Measure Q deserves some praise. A citizens oversight committee, including both proponents and opponents of the plan, has carefully monitored how the additional revenues ($11.6 million last year) have been spent.
There's an old saying about government agencies -- the more money they're given, the more they spend -- but Barone cites the oversight committee as the guarantee against unwise expenditures. "These folks are the watchdogs to give people feedback on where this money is going," she said.
The oversight committee has expressed its concern over the city relying too heavily on the supplemental funds. It noted that of the Measure Q revenue in the 2013-14 budget, $5.4 million went to the general fund, $5.2 million to reserves. In the 2014-15 budget, that ratio changed -- $8 million to the general fund and $3.6 million to reserves -- and not for the better.
An immediate problem confronting Concord is paying for postponed infrastructure repairs. A longer-term problem is fixing the city's structural budget deficit without turning Measure Q into a permanent crutch.
Included in the measure that will go before voters is a provision that the council can end the half-cent sales tax as soon as it's no longer needed. Don't count on that happening anytime soon.
There's a reason the measure was proposed for nine years.
Contact Tom Barnidge at firstname.lastname@example.org