LAFAYETTE — Another effort to raise taxes to pay for road repairs and other city services has died, this time in the City Council chamber.
Council members unanimously voted Monday against putting a combined city charter and real property transfer tax measure on the November ballot, saying widespread opposition to the initiative would likely make a campaign unsuccessful.
City officials estimated that increasing the transfer tax, levied when property is sold, by $5 could bring as much as $2.3 million in new revenue each year. The current tax of $1.10 is split by the city and the county. A city charter is required to raise the tax.
Nearly every speaker during more than two hours of public comment Monday opposed the proposal, including representatives from the Lafayette Taxpayers Association and the Lafayette Homeowners Council.
Echoing arguments made at previous meetings, residents on Monday said the city should cut costs before asking voters for more taxes, especially during a recession.
"There are people in this town who do not have jobs and you want money, and that makes me really sad," said Sherry Hoover.
Though most council members supported the proposal in theory, the likelihood of a difficult and divisive campaign against well-organized opposition gave them pause — something Councilman Don Tatzin cited as another reason to squelch a ballot measure.
"When we do something like this, the council needs to be in a position of leadership, not in the position of figuring out what someone else is doing to lead the effort, and I don't think we're there as a group," he said.
The measure had the support of the Chamber of Commerce and a handful of other speakers, some of whom said all voters — not just those who come to council meetings — should decide the issue.
Council members repeatedly asked the city attorney to correct or clarify misconceptions about the implications of a charter. One such misconception: That a charter would allow the council to lower the two-thirds approval threshold for special taxes or make it easier for the council to place tax measures on the ballot.
"Even with the education that we've had, there's still a lot of confusion about the charter city, and I still maintain that if there's confusion people are likely to vote no," Councilwoman Carol Federighi said.
The parcel tax was the latest in a decade-long city effort to find new revenue to fund a $16 million road repair backlog and bolster a police force with one of the county's lowest staffing levels.
Since 1998, multiple parcel tax and bond measures have failed at the ballot box. A proposal to increase the sales tax never made it to the voters.
The city will continue to pursue state and federal grant money and do the best with the resources it has, City Manager Steven Falk said Tuesday.
"It's up to the council, of course," he said, "(but) I don't see an interest or an appetite to present yet another tax option to the community in the near term."
Contact Jonathan Morales at 925-943-8048.