National City voters will decide in 2024 whether the city should establish a parcel tax on some property owners that would generate funds exclusively for repairing streets and alleys and improving aging parks.
Last week, the City Council approved submitting the initiative for voter consideration at the next general election. Council members first discussed the proposal at an Aug. 2 meeting but they tabled it until Aug. 30 because they requested revenue information.
The initiative would establish an annual parcel tax on property owners — with some exemptions — and generate money solely for “urgent improvements to city streets, infrastructure and parks that will make life better for all our residents now and for years to come,” according to the proposal.
More than 2,800 verified signatures from local registered voters were collected for the measure, which the county Registrar of Voters certified.
To qualify for the ballot, the measure needed signatures from 10 percent of the city’s nearly 28,000 voters. Proponents of the initiative included residents Barbara Avalos, Ken Seaton-Msemaji and Councilmember Jose Rodriguez. They had hoped to get the measure on the November ballot but an Aug. 2 request from the council meant the measure would not make the Registrar’s Aug. 12 deadline.
In a 3-2 vote on Aug. 2, the council directed staff to prepare a report on the proposal that verified how much revenue the tax would generate, its effect on land use, the ability of the city to meet its regional housing needs and its impact on infrastructure funding. Vice Mayor Marcus Bush and Rodriguez opposed waiting for a report.
Proponents said the tax would generate about $1.7 million, based on a county inventory of parcel values. The rate of taxation would be based on the character of a property, such as $52 per mobile home, $75 for single-family parcels, $365 for commercial and industrial and up to $500 for multi-family.
Much of the council’s discussion was about getting a more accurate figure the tax would generate because the measure’s analysis did not consider the excused parcels. Exemptions would be made for qualifying senior citizens, affordable housing projects, nonprofits, religious institutions and government properties.
City staff estimated that the yearly potential revenue would be a maximum of $1.56 million, though that number also does not calculate exemptions. The reason is there is “no available data that ties the ownership of the parcels to the exemptions” and that until those qualifying organizations or individuals “apply for an exemption … any attempts to quantify a final amount would be speculative at best,” read the city’s report.
Councilmember Ron Morrison said it was important that the language on the ballot is clear for voters to understand that the revenue would be “something less than that number.”
As proposed, the parcel tax could generate about $777,900 to improve streets, sidewalks and alleys and add streetlighting; $311,100 to maintain parks and playgrounds; $233,371 to build new parks and $233,300 for administrative costs.
A big push for the measure was that residents really want alleys paved, Avalos said in a previous interview. About 15 percent of National City’s 161 alleyways are unpaved, the city said.
Rodriguez said last week he was content with the measure moving forward, despite not making it on this year’s ballot, because addressing street repairs are “the bread-and-butter issues of our community.”
If voters approve the measure in 2024, the City Council will have to decide in future budget meetings whether to finance costs on a yearly basis as the tax revenue is collected or by bonding to collect more money up front for capital improvements.
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