Mountain View Voice

Opinion - November 15, 2013

City will have to wait on new projects

A poll commissioned by the city sent a clear message that the council was forced to acknowledge last week — residents are not interested in going into debt to pay for big ticket items like a grade separation at Rengstorff and the Caltrain tracks, a new community park, new fire station, new police and fire administration headquarters, and a new emergency operations center.

The bottom line: Any plan to get approval of a multi-million dollar bond issue next year would be doomed, with at best only 56.3 percent voter approval, far short of the 66.67 percent needed to pass.

So instead of sorting out if one or all of the projects on the list should go on a ballot next year, the council was left to ruminate about what they need to do to convince residents that the projects are essential and worth doing soon.

Council member Margaret Abe-Koga had it right: "The reality is the public doesn't really have these conversations we've had about what our needs are." She blamed a lack of preparation by the city for the poor results.

"A poll with no education done, you are probably going to get these kinds of results. We need to do a better job of educating the public and making a case," she said.

Pollster Brian Godbe told the council, "There isn't a pressing need in (voters') minds for any one of these particular facilities."

The numbers were clear: two thirds of voters said they would only agree to increase property taxes $19 a year for every $100,000 of assessed valuation, far short of the $24 per $100,000 to pay for a $50 million bond issue.

Another finding shared by the pollster was that city residents are not unhappy with city services. In fact, 93 percent said they were "satisfied," down from 95 percent in 2006. Nevertheless, 93 percent satisfaction is not a bad rate.

Given such glowing results, council member Mike Kasperzak said he believes any thought of a bond issue next year is off the table. Council member Ronit Bryant said, "I think we should not consider raising taxes. Let's see what we can do with what we have." She said she would wait a few years. "There's 2016. I always prefer to wait until it hurts."

That is a sensible course for the council to follow, while they take steps to shore up existing facilities with funds in the bank now.

For example, staff told the council that the city currently has $19.8 million in existing funds that could be used to upgrade the community center. Surely, a lot of work could be done on the center with nearly $20 million.

The council also heard that raising certain user fees, like the business tax from $60 to $120 a year, could bring in $350,000 a year and almost $1 million could come to the city if the transient occupancy tax charged on hotel rooms is raised from 10 to 12 percent.

Given the mood of those surveyed, 2014 should be a "steady as she goes" year for the council. Voters are simply not ready to incur major debt for projects they do not deem as essential.

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