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Measure M and L Pass, Parks Could Benefit

By Susana Montes | 15 Nov 2009

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SAN MATEO– Voters passed two tax hike initiatives on the Nov. 3 election to avoid a reduction of city services, including parks.

Measure M will increase the city’s hotel tax from 10 percent to 12 percent. The tax will be paid by tourists and visitors and it is estimated to produce $800,000 per year.

Measure L will raise the city’s sales tax from 9.25 percent to 9.5 percent–which means consumers will spend an extra quarter for every $100 purchase. City leaders estimate this will generate $3.2 million annually.

Both measures needed a simple majority to pass.

A total of 74 percent of voters approved Measure M and 61 percent endorsed Measure L, with mail-in ballots counted and all 61 precincts reporting. The voter turnout was a about 27 percent for both measures.

“The arguments were conclusive. There are no arguments against it. Our local government is being significantly squeezed and they need more sources of revenue,” said Olden Briscoe, a long-time San Mateo resident who voted ‘yes’ on the ballot. “This seems reasonable,” he added.

Earlier this year, the city faced an $8 million budget gap and slashed $4 million. City leaders hoped voters would approve the initiatives, as the two measures combined are expected to yield enough revenue to balance the city’s $4 million budget deficit.

The revenue raised from these taxes will go into the City’s general fund and may be used for any municipal governmental purpose, including police and fire protection, library facilities, public works, street maintenance and repair and programs for seniors.

Part of this money will also be allocated to continue the maintenance and operation of parks, said Clifford S. Robbins, chair of the Park and Recreation Commission, after casting his vote at a polling station at San Mateo Park Elementary School.

Robbins said he doesn’t know how much money will be allocated to the Parks Department.

“I do know that we were anticipating 8 percent in further cuts that we don’t have to implement at this point,” he said, the day after the results were announced.

The city operates 200 acres of parks, six community centers with two pools, holds over 900 athletic and fitness classes and more than 500 creative classes.

If the measures had failed, the city would be forced to cut park services including senior programs, access to recreation centers, fitness classes, swimming pools, and ranger programs, Robbins said. Other departments including fire, police and the library were susceptible to budget cuts.

Groups who value parks, including residents with lower income and smaller housing, supported the measure, Robbins said.

“In tough economic times, people are tax averse,” he said. “But this city has made huge efforts to cut the budget. Some staff has already been furloughed and efficiencies have been put in place.”

Police, firefighters and other employees agreed to defer raises and take unpaid furloughs to help resolve the budget crisis.

But Laura Brown, a mother of two, said she opposed the tax measures, citing government officials’ pensions as “unreasonable.”

“I’m concerned that we are throwing money at things without having thought what this means in the long-term,” said Brown, who is unemployed. “The services are incredibly important services, but the structure of how we pay public officials is not sustainable. They get better healthcare than most people.”

Diane Klein, a mother of four, agreed. She said city government officials should look at efficiencies and do more with less.

“Why don’t you make these people more responsible?” said Klein, a Republican, as she left the polling station. “When is it enough? How much more are you going to tax us?”

With these two measures, the city will have one of the largest sales tax in the county. The average tax rate for cities in the county is 9.25 percent.

Although San Carlos put a similar measure on the ballot to increase its rate to 9.75 percent, it did not pass.

Other cities near San Francisco International Airport, including Burlingame, Brisbane, Millbrae and San Bruno raised hotel taxes from 10 percent to 12 percent. South San Francisco raised its hotel tax from 9 to 10 percent.

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