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Council nixes sales tax study

ENCINITAS — The city won’t order a sales tax increase study after all — at least for now.

Two weeks ago, three council members said they were in favor of calling for a study on whether residents would support a tax increase to fund roads and other local infrastructure. Council members then voted 3-2 to request proposals from research firms.

But two council members during Wednesday night’s meeting said they’re no longer in favor of such a study at this time.

Councilwoman Lisa Shaffer said the study’s survey questions would help the city pinpoint which projects need funding.

“Questions can be very helpful in discerning what people’s preferences are,” Shaffer said. “I didn’t get a crystal ball when I was elected.”

But she added that “the risk of politicization” is too high right now, saying the survey has been characterized as phony, even though it hasn’t been written or approved.

Two weeks ago, a consultant told council members they would have to hurry if they wanted the sales tax increase to make the November ballot.

Councilman Tony Kranz said bringing up a sales tax increase causes people’s skin to crawl. But they come around to the idea when it’s laid out where exactly revenue would go, like infrastructure repair.

However, he added the city shouldn’t rush through the outreach process, making a study unnecessary for now.

While ordering a study requires the OK from three council members, placing an increase on the ballot for a public vote demands approval from four out of the five council members.

Two council members have flatly opposed upping the sales tax.

Councilwoman Kristin Gaspar said the survey could aid the city in identifying priorities, but in light of big purchases like the Pacific View property, the city doesn’t have a lot of money to allocate to new projects.

“We just can’t keep going back to the public time and time again when the well dries up,” Gaspar said, adding the city needs to find a way to live within its means.

Councilman Mark Muir agreed that survey outreach doesn’t make sense when considering the city’s fiscal situation.

“I just don’t know what we’d do with that information,” Muir said.

“We don’t have the money now to look at these projects,” he added.

A sales tax study, which includes a survey, community research and outreach, would cost roughly $100,000, according to the city’s staff report.

The idea of a sales tax increase was brought up nearly two months ago as a means to fund projects like purchasing the Pacific View property.

Mayor Teresa Barth, who previously voted in favor of the study, didn’t comment on the item.

This year, the city is on track to collect $11.72 million in sales tax revenue. Encinitas’ tax rate is 8 percent. Hiking it up to 8.25 percent would bring in an additional $2.7 million into city coffers each year, according to a city analysis.