In the News

Santa Cruz council sets new goals, revises tax codes

By J.M. Brown
Santa Cruz Sentinel, 5/15/13

SANTA CRUZ -- The Santa Cruz City Council on Tuesday examined the city's three-year strategic plan, which lays out goals for environmental and financial sustainability, economic development, and public safety.

After considerable discussion, the council agreed on a 4-3 vote to explore development of a pilot neighborhood grant project with funding to be discussed during upcoming budget hearings.

Other new objectives, created during a council retreat in April, include more actively managing open spaces and working with the county to monitor public health issues such as discarded needles.

The city also will explore a permanent sports and performance venue that could eventually replace the temporary Santa Cruz Warriors facility. The city also will conduct a downtown parking study on needs and rates, with consideration of a new parking structure downtown.

The city also will focus on certifying the environmental impact report for a proposed desalination facility and preparing for a 2014 ballot measure asking voters whether to build the $128 million plant.

The council on Tuesday approved a water rate study that will offer options for balancing operational expenses with long-delayed capital improvements. As conservation increases, water revenue is expected to go down while costs for water production, including for desalination, are expected to rise.

Piret Harmon, water finance director, said the $86,450 study will not immediately translate to rate increases but will include recommendations.

"This is more of a strategic and systematic approach," Harmon said. "Do we as a city and water utility support more of an ongoing rate increase on a regular basis that keeps up with inflation? Or is it more reflective of the community to have no increase for a period and then when we need it, deep increases?"

Also Tuesday, the council revised codes on lodging and admission taxes, which together generate about $6.5 million annually.

The revisions create exemptions to the admissions tax for health-related and school activities; the city will study future exemptions for nonprofits. The cost of the exemptions could be offset with new admissions taxes for the Warriors.

Cliff Hodges, co-owner of CrossFit West, urged the exemption, saying the tax affects the bottom line of his gym.

"We are left with two options: of being more expensive than our competitors or paying the tax ourselves by trying to compete with other businesses in the county," he said.

Lodging tax changes will allow for monthly, rather than quarterly, reporting and more time for the city to file liens against violators. The council may consider exempting occasional vacation rental owners from monthly reporting.

© 2008-2013 scwd2 Desalination Program, All rights reserved.