Any proposal required a unanimous vote of the council before it could be submitted for the ballot of a special election, scheduled for Nov. 5.
The vote was originally supposed to be taken at the council’s normally scheduled Wednesday, Aug. 7 meeting, but councilmembers reached an impasse over the number of years to propose the tax increase for, which led to the special meeting the following evening.
Four of the five members of the council — including Mayor Randy Johnson and Vice Mayor Jim Reed — lobbied for the proposal to span no longer than 7 years, arguing that a shorter tax increase would be more palatable to voters.
“I think we’re in such a pickle right now that we can’t run the risk of people saying no,” Reed said. “There are so many things that could go sideways in this city if the voters say no.”
Councilwoman Stephany Aguilar was the lone dissenter going into Thursday’s meeting, positing that that a longer half-cent tax, followed by a permanent quarter-cent sales tax increase, would better serve the city in the long run, rather than repeatedly appealing to voters during crises.
“We’ve played this game before,” Aguilar said. “We need to be a little more transparent to the community and let them know the issues — you’re not going to be able to use a Band-Aid on a burst carotid artery.”
Councilwoman Donna Lind said that the need to resolve the city’s deficit was dire, and if it wasn’t done quickly, “the services we’ve come to enjoy in Scotts Valley” were likely to suffer.
“Every cost-cutting measure we can find — there was nothing left (to cut),” Lind said. “I feel like we’ve got employees we’re going to lose if we don’t move quickly.”
Scotts Valley Police Department Chief John Weiss — along with his predecessor Steve Walpole — appealed to the council to reach a compromise.
Weiss said that the perceived financial instability of the city could lead to further staff losses, as the city’s trained officers are lured elsewhere by more competitive salaries.
“We’re limping along right now,” Weiss said. “This is very stressful for the men and women of the police department.”
Thursday’s debate went on for about an hour before the council finally reached a compromise, settling on the 8 years.
“I’m hopeful that this (compromise) will get us through a rough time,” Johnson said.
Councilman Dene Bustichi, echoed Johnson’s statement, adding that the challenge would now be in convincing voters to support the proposal.
“I think it’s always good for a council to have their feet held to the fire a little bit,” Bustichi said. “For right now, what we’re saying is we need some help, but I don’t think we should need help forever.”
Reed expressed his concern that the proposed 8-year life of the tax increase was risky, and likened it to “playing Russian roulette with the city’s future.”
“I worry it’s too long and that we might not make it through (a vote),” Reed said. “If we get told ‘no’ we can’t expect to go back and get a different result.”
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