The Coast News Group
Despite opposition from the business community, a 1 percent sales tax increase was approved by 66 percent of registered voters during the Nov. 8 election. The increase took effect April 1, but sales tax only went up to 8.75 percent thanks to a slight drop in the state rate. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek
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Del Mar giveth and taketh away

DEL MAR — Making purchases in Del Mar just got slightly pricier as a 1 percent sales tax increase approved by voters in November took effect April 1.

But thanks to a 1/4-percent decrease in the state sales tax, the hike raises the rate in the county’s smallest city to only 8.75 percent. So for every $100 purchase people will pay $8.75 rather than $9, as was originally expected.

The additional money, which will go directly to the city, will be used to fund projects such as street and streetscape improvements, undergrounding utility lines, providing more safety services and upgrading community parks.

Council members said residents will help prioritize which projects are funded and in what order.

Before the election, a survey indicated about 70 percent of registered voters supported Measure Q, as the increase was billed on the November ballot. It passed with a little more than 66 percent of the votes.

Support was likely strong because city staff estimated 70 percent of the sales tax collected in Del Mar is paid by the 5 million annual visitors.

The increase could add an estimated $1.5 million to $2 million annually to city coffers.

It applies to taxable goods sold in the city and at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, but not to internet sales unless the company has a presence in Del Mar.

Nearly 4 percent of all sales tax in the city goes to the state. Another 3 percent is claimed by the county.

While government is not generally in the business of issuing refunds, two residents who each paid $500 to submit an appeal for a Planning Commission decision will be getting their money back.

Council members voted at the April 3 meeting to return the fees to Ralph DeMarco and Ed Yuskiewicz, who filed the appeals on behalf of two resident groups.

While city officials are deciding whether to ban short-term rentals in residential areas or create regulations, they asked the Planning Commission earlier this year to interpret the municipal code to determine if they are allowed in those zones.

At its Feb. 14 meeting the five-member panel, in a 3-2 vote, ruled that an interpretation could not be made because short-term rentals are not defined or listed in the municipal code.

Before council agreed at the March 20 meeting to hear the appeals, which they will do April 17 beginning at 5:30 p.m., resident Betty Wheeler noted that the process is generally used by “people handling individual matters.”

“This is a matter of community-wide interest,” Wheeler said. “I would urge you to consider refunding those fees.”

According to April 3 staff report, the city manager reviewed the request and found there are grounds for the refund because the appeals are unique in that they have community-wide relevance.