Raise every city fee. Install red light cameras. Raise parking rates. Allow advertising on city buildings. Sell off municipal property. Charge incoming Cal Poly students to take a mandatory city-sponsored citizenship class. Institute a city income tax.
These were just a few of the ideas cooked up by members of the San Luis Obispo Sustainability Task Force at its July 22 meeting, the first open to the public. Members hope to raise revenue to save the city from financial Armageddon.
The meeting, held in a large side room in the Veterans Hall, was the third of a series and was planned as a brainstorming session to come up with ideas to counter the city’s dismal financial situation. The city faced a $3 million deficit for this year, which will likely balloon much higher in the future. Add scheduled pension payment hikes to the mix, and the budget gap rises to $5 million by 2013. If Measure Y, a half-percent sales tax, is rejected when it comes back for voter renewal, the city could face an $11 million shortfall.
“There are no bad ideas,” seemed to be the theme of the meeting. Task Force members
were asked to put their “revenue enhancing” notions on pieces of paper. More than 90 ideas were ultimately pinned to boards at the front of the room.
There were a few bumps in the process. A few rebels wrote suggestions like “make employees pay higher premiums” and “cut staff.”
Katie Lichtig, the city manager, pointed out that there would be a future meeting dedicated to brainstorming ideas for dealing with the city’s expenditures. There are 11 more meetings planned, and nearly every aspect of city finances is scheduled to be examined.
As the ideas for fee and tax hikes added up, some of the business members of the meeting warned that at “some point in time you just can’t come after people” and “you can only take so much juice out of a lemon.” The city representatives said they understood and reminded the group they were still in the brainstorming stages.
Task force members were then told to go up to the boards and affix small round labels to the revenue-raising ideas they liked. Members were far more restrained in selecting favorites. Only a few of the “revenue enhancers” netted a great deal of support.
Measure Y renewal, sales of city property, charging fees to out-of-town consultants who do business in the city, promoting economic development, and growing existing money-making events were all big winners. The idea of a city income tax didn’t receive a single vote.