The Coast News Group
Cities Community Vista

Cannabis taxes help lift Vista budget

VISTA — The City Council at its April 13 meeting got its first peek at its biennial operating budget, which shows an overall surplus for the Fiscal Year 2021-22 and 22-23 cycles.

According to Sarah Taylor, a senior management analyst for the city, Vista is expected to have a $559,474 surplus in the next fiscal year, and a $301,562 deficit in the following year. However, those estimates are due to staff capping the medicinal marijuana tax revenue at $4 million per year, she said.

Taylor said staff was conservative in its budget and the actual estimate for Measure Z taxes will likely top $5 million per year. She said the increase of marijuana revenue is due to all 11 dispensaries being operational.

“Having a balanced budget is fantastic,” said Councilman Joe Green. “The $300,000 deficit doesn’t bother me because I know the cannabis revenues are extremely conservative.”

As for revenues, the city is estimating a 2021-22 budget of $92.2 million and $95 million in 2022-23. Taylor said sales taxes are increasing thanks to the Wayfair decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, which allows for municipalities to collect sales tax on out-of-state sellers.

Vista is projecting $20.7 million and $21.4 million in sales tax the next two fiscal years, while property taxes are also increasing from more than $26 million in 2021-22 and nearly $27 million in 2022-23.

The next biggest jump from 2020-21 is Proposition L sales taxes, which are expected to be $9.5 million and $9.8 million in 2021-22 and 22-23, respectively.

As for transient occupancy tax (hotels), the city is projecting a decrease of nearly $500,000 for the 2021-22 year, which is down from $1.6 million this year. By 2022-23, though, Vista projects taxes to match this year’s level.

“Some of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on revenue were milder than predicted,” Taylor said. “Other revenue sources are expected to continue to be impacted, such as transient occupancy tax.”

With the expected boost in cannabis revenue, the council also expressed some of their priorities with the additional funds.

Green said his “wish” list included installing solar panels at city facilities, grants to benefit the youth in recovering from the pandemic, hiring another social worker and adding a dog park in north Vista. Councilwoman Corinna Contreras also championed a youth program.

Councilman John Franklin, meanwhile, said he would like to hire one or two more sheriff’s deputies (currently the city has 83 assigned deputies) as the ratio of deputies has fallen to 0.8 per 1,000 residents. He also said he’d like to add another employee to the city’s Psychological Emergency Response Team.

However, two residents said the city should redirect its $25 million contract with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department to focus on hiring mental health professionals and partner with local organizations to address crime and marginalized residents.

“We need to add deputies that are trained,” Franklin said. “We would need to add 13 deputies to get to the ratio we were at 10 years ago.”

As for expenditures, the city is projecting $91.7 million for 2021-22 and $95.3 million for 2022-23. The largest budget is for public safety, which includes the sheriff’s and fire departments at $55.5 million and $57.1 million in the following two fiscal years, Taylor said.

The public safety budget for 2021-22 includes replacing two, Type-1 fire engines for the Vista Fire Department. The $57.1 million 2022-23 budget includes replacing a Type-3 brush engine.