Exeter may consider sales tax increase
By Reggie Ellis
exeter – For the first time in the city’s history, Exeter may ask residents to tax themselves more on every purchase made in town.
City Manager Randy Groom brought up the possibility of placing a sales tax increase on the ballot for an upcoming election during an annual planning workshop with department heads and the Exeter City Council held on Feb. 7.
“We need to contemplate a sales tax measure,” Groom said. “It’s one of the few things we have control over and I don’t think Exeter has ever done asales tax measure.”
Groom told council members that the city had “tightened its belt about as much as it can” and needs to start looking at increasing revenues instead of cutting costs. Public works director Damon Qualls said his crews are working well to keep the infrastructure in tact but he does not have enough manpower to do more projects in a single year. Exeter Police Chief Cliff Bush said he is still holding one vacant officer position which has made the department “reactive instead of proactive.” However, Chief Bush did mention that Exeter’s crime stats are on the decline even though it is on the rise in surrounding communities. Community services director Felix Ortiz said participation in recreation programs was “up and down.”
“We can look at other cuts but I don’t think you’ll like where we go,” Groom said.
Exeter’s current tax rate is at 7.75% which is the lowest in Tulare County, along with Woodlake and Lindsay, and is 75 cents lower than Dinuba currently and Visalia in April when Measure N kicks in. Porterville, Farmersville and Tulare are at 8.25%. Groom said the City will look at increasing impact fees on commercial development and “some things that we don’t charge any fees for but that we should.”
Finance director Sheri Emerson said the 2016-17 budget was the first since she had been with the city where a budget with a “structural deficit” was approved. She said the city is on pace to operate in a deficit at the end of the year unless more cuts are made or revenues increase.
“Revenues have to improve or bigger cuts will have to be made around the corner,” she said.
City manager Randy Groom said there are two remaining areas where cuts might be made. He said the City needs to take a serious look at the Dial-A-Ride program, a bus that provides transportation within the city limits. Emerson said the program’s revenue is projected to end the year about $60,000 short of expenditures and will have to filled by the General Fund. The other major area the City is trying to save money is in pensions. Groom said the city needs to restructure it contribution for each employee to the California Public Employee Retirement System (Cal PERS). That means that new employees will have to contribute more from their own pocket to fund their retirements.
“We’ve made reductions to every single area,” Groom said. “There is no training seminars, no conferences and this point, it comes down to people and small dollar items.”
Despite stagnant revenues and cost cutting measures, Groom said there were things the city was able to accomplish in the last year. The police department was able to secure a $15,000 grant for the Juvenile Diversion program. One of only two programs in Tulare County, the Juvenile Diversion program is a board of community members who intervene and decide discipline in order to keep a juvenile from being sentenced to his first offense. The City was also able to settle with the Tulare County Fire Department for$500,000 in back fire taxes that were collected but never applied to the city’s payment for fire protection services between 2007 and 2015.
The police department launched its Officer Nitro a robocop-esque mascot used in the schools. The department also found a part-time employee to manage its property and evidence room, started a remodel of the shooting range, and is three-quarters of the way to implementing a better system for data management.
“This is the tightest budget since I’ve been here,” said Groom who was hired in 2008. “It was a tough year to accomplish a lot but I feel good we made it doing as much as we did.”
Councilmember Sally asked that more money be put into the city’s alleyways to try and get ahead of the maintenance in future years. Emerson said there is annually money allocated to alleyway improvement and that the city might be able work against future allocations to increase maintenance in the alleys. Councilmember Petty asked that the City look into becoming “A Community for Child Well Being.” The designation requires a proclamation from the city council that “all residents acknowledge that its children are entitled to be loved, cared for, nurtured, and encouraged to reach their full potential; and whereas, every child is entitled to live in a peaceful community, to feel secure and to be free from violence, from abuse and neglect, and from lack of concern for their well being.”
Farmersville was the first to approve the proclamation and even dedicated a bench in honor of Sophia Acosta, the 3-year-old girl who was raped and killed five years ago in Exeter.