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County preps for tax spending plan
January 14, 2013, 05:00 AM By Michelle Durand Daily Journal Staff
Two months after county voters heartily put their faith in officials by passing a half-cent sales tax for the next 10 years, the Board of Supervisors is ready to craft a spending plan.

The board on Tuesday will hold a workshop — the first of several, hopes board President Don Horsley — to provide staff with some direction about priorities and possibilities for the roughly $60 million expected to be raised annually after receipts begin flowing in June.

The tax, which increases the county rate to 8.75 percent, begins April 1.

A public workshop is anticipated Feb. 12 to nail down spending priorities and set the first year's actual allocations.

It's unclear what entities may make a personal pitch on Tuesday. However, the November ballot provided a laundry list of possible recipients and, heading into the workshop, County Manager John Maltbie is ready with another roster of potential uses.

In his report to the Board of Supervisors, Maltbie is also ready with a word of caution — remember that the tax will sunset in 10 years.

"How these fund are spent will undoubtedly determine whether voters renew this tax,” Maltbie wrote in the report.

Maltbie wrote that the limited term of the funds make them appropriate for short term and urgent needs, replacement or upgrades of critical facilities and infrastructure, paying down debt and unfunded liabilities and investing in pilot programs that will help reduce the structural deficit.

As examples, his report ticks off child abuse prevention, emergency dispatch, fire prevention, reading programs and homework centers, county parks, health care, seismic upgrades at hospitals and needs like child care, shared services and economic development.

Many of the suggestions echo those listed on the ballot although those included specifics like seismic upgrades at private Seton Medical Center in Daly City and jail staffing.

For his part, Horsley said he's interested in helping out parks. He also wants to make sure the county doesn't spend its windfall willy-nilly.

"We want to be cautious as well before we start spending. It's not as if the tax money is anywhere near our overall budget of nearly $2 billion,” Horsley said.

Supervisor Carole Groom wants an inventory of the county's deferred maintenance and a look at the programs cut by the state that might be restored by county funding.

"That's of great importance. And I want a prioritization of what we can do and how much it is going to cost,” she said.

Using Measure A funds to pay down existing debt and unfunded liabilities like retirement benefits would lower ongoing contributions and free up money for ongoing operations, according to Maltbie's assessment. For example, a lump sum payment of $50 million toward the county's $962.3 million in unfunded retirement liability could reduce annual county contributions by $4 million to $5 million.

The county has a total of more than $1.8 billion in existing liabilities and infrastructure needs, including more than $300 million for facilities like the replacement jail, unfunded major maintenance projects and new construction.

At Tuesday's workshop, the Board of Supervisors is expected to direct Maltbie to prepare a resolution by May 31 designating an oversight committee to perform an annual audit of the Measure A revenue and create an online dashboard to show the community how the money was spent.

The Board of Supervisors meets 9 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 15 in Board Chambers, 400 County Government Center, Redwood City.

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

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