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County may ask voters to up sales tax
July 21, 2012, 05:00 AM By Michelle Durand Daily Journal Staff

The same county voters who rejected two of three tax measures last month may be asked in November to consider a decade-long half-cent sales tax increase for a laundry list of possible uses, including seismic upgrades at a private hospital.

The increase would push total sales tax from 8.25 percent to 8.75 throughout San Mateo County, aside from San Mateo whose own one-quarter cent tax would mean 9 percent and Half Moon Bay which is proposing its own one-half cent sales tax in November. If both passed, the city’s sales tax would increase to 9.25 percent. Passage of such a measure requires a simple majority.

The tax could not begin before April 1, 2013.

But before an increase measure comes before voters, the proposal must first make it past a four-fifths majority of the Board of Supervisors. Board President Adrienne Tissier and Supervisor Don Horsley, both who are proposing the hike, will obviously support the idea.

The question is if two of the other three remaining supervisors will also be on board.

"Four-fifths is hard especially with a dicey issue,” said Tissier, adding she has no idea if the support will be there at Tuesday’s meeting.

Supervisor Carole Groom was a vocal opponent of a sales tax increase when the idea was raised two years ago and said Friday of the new recommendation that she has not yet made up her mind.

Supervisor Dave Pine said he still needs to think the proposal through before deciding whether to support it.

"The biggest need I have is more public input,” he said.

He is also weighing if the tax will drive business elsewhere or limit other cities’ ability to increase taxes.

Supervisor Rose Jacobs Gibson could be reached for comment.

The tax would raise approximately $60 million annually for 10 years — minus any cost for the state administering it — and Tissier said it is sorely needed to maintain the county’s programs and services. Unlike the three tax measures in June, which were aimed at tourists through parking, car rentals and hotel stays, Tissier said this measure is focused on county residents making contributions.

"I’m comfortable asking because at the end of the day, they make the decision. We’re not saying it’s going to happen. We’re simply asking that voters consider it,” Tissier said.

Horsley, who in June preferred a sales tax to the measures presented on that ballot, said the county would particularly need the extra revenue if the state tax measure fails. He also thinks a county measure has a greater shot at success.

"I’ve always felt that when people vote for a state tax it ends up in the black hole of Sacramento. People don’t really see how it affects them. When it’s a local tax they know it directly benefits them,” Horsley said.

The Board of Supervisors would have complete say over how the proceeds are used because it is a general tax but offer the public a list of possibilities such as public safety, parks, jail staffing, gang and drug task forces and educational programs.

Tissier and Horsley also suggest using some of the revenue to help Seton Medical Center in Daly City with mandated seismic upgrades to stave off closure in 2020. Seton provides a significant number of long-term care beds for Medi-Cal populations and losing them would have a domino effect on other health providers, including the San Mateo Medical Center which is already challenged by increasing client loads and waiting lists.

Seton officials have already approached the county about receiving $10 million to $15 million in annual funding but no commitments have been made, Pine said.

Horsley said skeptical voters have to realize they already subsidize health care at private facilities and that when health care reform kicks in the county must have a solid physical network available.

The county has already tightened its belt, although it can admittedly always do more, Tissier said.

Officials are also aggressively pursuing economic development but the planning alone, let alone the fruition, will take years, she said.

The tax, which is proposed as ending after 10 years unless renewed, will provide much-needed funds during that gap period, she said.

The tax increase proposal comes a month after the Board of Supervisors tentatively approved a $1.8 billion budget that includes many capital needs, such as improving a pair of office buildings the county purchased last year for $40 million and initial planning and building costs for a new jail.

That same month a majority of voters rejected an increase to the hotel transient occupancy tax and a tax on commercial parking in the unincorporated areas. A 2.5 percent tax on car rentals passed by less than 200 votes and will bring in an estimated $8 million annually.

The Board of Supervisors meets 9 a.m. Tuesday, July 24 in Board Chambers, 400 County Government Center, Redwood City.

Michelle Durand can be reached by email: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102.

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