January 19, 2007

National City Sales Tax May Be Heading Back to the Ballot

By Raymond R. Beltran

NATIONAL CITY— Proposition B. Proposition D. The city’s sales tax increase has taken on different names, but it continues to remain a hot button issue between the city council and a resistant community opposition.

Proposition B, a one cent sales tax increase introduced by the city council, was rejected by 57 percent of voters in November 2005. Opponents say, “the city got wiser” in their 2006 approach. The same initiative was introduced by the city last June as Proposition D. It passed, 58 percent.

This Tuesday, local businessmen laid down a 700-signature petition to the city clerk to put the issue back on the ballot in 2008, so, they hope, voters will repeal the now existing tax hike. But National City Mayor Ron Morrison hollers “misinformation and half truths” from a group of outside agitators.

Randy Myrseth, a National City resident and disabled veteran, is backed by a number of Libertarian Party members hoping to turn the tables on what he views as a wealthy political campaign machine in the city council.

Randy Myrseth (left) and Edward Teyssier (middle) turned in 700 signatures to National City Clerk Michael Dalla in hopes of putting the city’s one cent sales tax increase back on the ballot.

Leading up to last year’s Proposition D initiative, the campaign, led by the city and backed by public safety employees, called for a sales tax hike totaling 8.75 percent so the city could climb out of a $6 million debt that, they say, was about to compromise public safety and a stream of recreational services.

“For a city that was about to close police stations, and fire stations, and the library and pools, they’re suddenly negotiating with the Chargers?” Myrseth said.

The sales tax applies to anyone purchasing goods, except produce, within the city, and applies to all National City residents who purchase vehicles anywhere, the point of sale being recorded as their address.

“Why should the poorest city in the county pay the highest sales tax in the state?” Myrseth asks.

Myrseth blames the pension system for the city’s financial shortfalls and viewed the increase as a way for the council to continue using taxpayer money to finance, 100 percent, public employee benefits, many who live outside the city.

Mayor Morrison, who favored Proposition D, said the city’s pension system is no different than other cities and that asking employees to contribute fifty percent into their pensions wouldn’t be an effective way to attract quality applicants to the city’s police and fire departments. He adds that the deficit is only a symptom of what is happening statewide.

During last year’s campaign, city officials anticipated $4.5 million in sales tax revenue within the latter five months of the fiscal year 2007, ending this June. The city promised to fill 52 vacancies periodically throughout the following five months.

Various critics, like local activist and resident Herman Baca, have stated that “the carriage is leading the horse” in this issue, because the city’s expected revenue was all speculative at that point and still remains to be seen.

“Here’s 501 sheets of paper,” said Edward Teyssier, a local attorney who personally handed the petitions to City Clerk Michael Dalla.

Myrseth and fellow opponents pulled a section from the State Constitution’s Article Thirteen to summate the number of signatures needed to repeal the tax increase. The minimum, they figured, is 355. They gathered an approximate 700, with more being submitted.

“Signatures gathered slow at the local [grocery stores] because people aren’t coming in from out of town,” Teyssier said. “A lot of them [locals] aren’t shopping here in National City, so, we had to go door to door.”

Teyssier and Myrseth both decided to let the campaign draw out for the next year and a half to wait for the 2008 presidential elections, when they say voter turnout will be large. They also said voters will have two years to see if the increase is beneficial.

“If they [the city] don’t produce in the next two years, they’re going to get [the shaft],” says Bill Goulet, a National City resident and businessman who ran for city council in November last year.

Goulet doesn’t completely disregard the benefits of a tax hike. He said he’d support a half-cent tax increase that would be tied to parks and recreation services only.

What he fears in the next campaign is that the city will, again, target youth recreational services, like library hours, park lighting, and pools, to persuade voters to keep the increase.

At this point, Myrseth’s signatures have been turned into the County Registrar of Voters to check their validity. They must be returned in thirty days.

City Clerk Mike Dalla stated, “All the steps they took were required steps and they were followed. Now the sufficiency of the signatures remains to be seen.”

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