CONCORD -- Voters in November will decide whether to extend the city's half-cent sales tax increase until 2025.
The City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to place on the November ballot a nine-year extension of Measure Q, which voters approved in 2010 and is set to expire in March 2016. Without the additional tax revenue, city leaders will need to identify $4 million in ongoing budget cuts that could mean reduced police services, fewer recreation programs and deferred infrastructure maintenance. Under Measure Q, the total sales tax rate in Concord is 9 percent.
"In general, I don't like taxes," Councilman Ron Leone said. "But I don't want to see major cuts in our city services even more."
During the recession, Concord eliminated services, reduced the work force and cut employee benefits. Measure Q dollars helped replenish reserves and preserve police functions, youth sports and recreation programs.
By unanimous vote, the City Council could end the half-cent sales tax increase before the scheduled expiration date.
"I think we need to make it our goal to do everything we can to make sure that regular expenses are covered by regular revenue so Measure Q can be retired early once it's extended," said former Mayor Guy Bjerke, who leads the Measure Q oversight committee.
A survey conducted earlier this month found that 68 percent of respondents support extending the extra tax, according to Bryan Godbe of polling firm Godbe Research. The poll of 400 residents has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.
A February poll found 77 percent support for an extension, but given the margin of error of both surveys, Godbe doesn't believe the drop-off is significant. The tax measure needs a simple majority to pass.
"An extension of Measure Q is not an additional tax -- so we are not taxing more -- we're just extending what we've already become accustomed to," Mayor Tim Grayson said.
Several residents spoke in favor of extending the tax, and no one expressed opposition.
Ray Barbour, who voted against Measure Q, said the higher tax rate didn't deter him from purchasing two luxury vehicles.
"I never look at that half percent; it's pennies, but it adds up when it's a group of people," said Barbour, who supports continuing the tax to maintain city services.
City staffers project that the half-cent sales tax would generate $12 million per year. Some of that revenue could pay for the estimated $7.4 million the city should be spending each year to address a backlog of infrastructure maintenance projects.
Without Measure Q, the city will need to make $4 million in ongoing cuts and use $16 million in reserves to balance budgets over the next 10 years, according to its financial forecast. By fiscal year 2023, staff projects that the city's reserve fund will have dwindled to 14 percent of total expenditures -- enough to cover less than two months of Concord's operating expenses.
Lisa P. White covers Concord and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.