WALNUT CREEK — City officials are considering whether to ask voters to pass a half-cent sales tax increase in the November election to help pay for a wish list of enhanced programs or facility improvements.
If approved by more than 50% of voters, the tax increase would be the first ever in the city, according to City Manager Dan Buckshi. A recent poll of residents indicates there is support for the sales tax hike, which would raise about $11 million a year over 10 years, he said.
Although the first questions in the survey attempt to gauge residents’ interest in boosting funding for crime prevention, public safety or disaster preparedness, Buckshi said he also asks about other other potential expenditures that city officials may determine deserve higher priority, such as the revamp of a community center in Civic Park, a city-owned art school on Shadelands Drive, a public swimming pool in Heather Farm and the park itself.
“The vast majority of our infrastructure can be maintained, but we have these four facilities that need to be replaced,” Buckshi said.
The survey also asks residents how they feel about paying more for youth and senior programs, sustainability initiatives and financial assistance to local businesses.
Because it is considered a general tax, however, the sales tax increase does not have to be spent on any of these things. Additional revenue is paid into the city’s general fund to be spent at the discretion of the city council, including operating expenses.
And if the council decided to spend the money on improving parks, swimming pools and art schools, there wouldn’t be enough to go far because those projects would together cost more than $150 million. The facilities at Heather Farm Park, which Buckshi said could become the top priority, would cost $60 million alone to replace.
Buckshi suggested the council probably wouldn’t use the money to pay for city services because Walnut Creek is in “good financial shape.”
The city received about 400 responses to the eight-page survey, which also included broader questions about how Walnut Creek could improve. The survey was developed by EMC Research, an Oakland-based data analytics company, and distributed to random city residents.
Although the city has not finished tabulating the responses, Buckshi said they suggest there is broad support for a sales tax increase.
Sales tax increases have proven successful in the region. In 2020, Contra Costa County voters approved Measure X, a half-cent sales tax that ended up paying for a range of service improvements, by a wide margin.
But on the Nextdoor mobile app, many who heard about the Walnut Creek investigation spoke out against a tax.
“Our ‘City Leaders’ and those who vote for them repeatedly should be the ones to pay this proposed new tax!” wrote a resident.
Another ridiculed city leaders for letting development “spread” and promoted Walnut Creek as a “‘destination city’ at the expense of public safety and neighborhood neglect.”
The proposed tax increase also had a few roots, including one resident who wrote, “Taxes pay for civilization.“