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Weed council ponders ways to close revenue gap made wider by pandemic

Mike Meyer

The City of Weed is looking at ways to permanently fund the town’s two cemeteries, make major repairs to its public pool, and help the city through COVID-19 related shortfalls due to a drop in sales taxes.

One of the possible solutions is an additional quarter-penny sales tax, which, if agreed to by the city council, would be placed on the November ballot to be approved by voters.

Currently, the two cemeteries in the Winema Cemetery District, Winema and Lincoln Heights, pay its three employees from a variety of semi-reliable sources.

“The sale of cemetery plots helps a little bit,”said Sam Mattei, the district’s one full-time employee. Two other employees work six months of the year.

“The TOT (Transportation Occupancy Tax) also helps some. And people that donate,” Mattei said during a phone interview.

During the COVID shutdown, the loss of hotel and motel taxes seriously lowered funds necessary to the cemetery district. Also hard hit were the Weed Recreation and Parks District and the city itself, both of which receive the TOT funds. The shutdown, plus the uncertain direction that the pandemic takes in the future, motivated the city to look at a new sales tax.

Also being considered is a 1% to 2% tax on property, though it would be levied by the recreation district and not the city.

COVID-related money problems and the two solutions were discussed during last Thursday’s Weed City Council meeting, held at the Weed Community Center.

In addition to stabilizing pay for cemetery employees, a portion of new tax funds could be used to help open the Bel Air Pool next year. The pool is open now, but 2020 could be its last year.

“We need major repairs to the pool and building,” said city council member Kim Greene. “If we don’t raise funds this year, the pool cannot open next year.”

Though the district will receive state tax funds on July 1, that money is used for operating expenses.

“Pool repairs are an additional cost,” said Greene, who is also director of the recreation district.

The ins and outs of a solution are further complicated in that the recreation district, the city, and cemetery district are each a separate entity. And it is the city that is looking at how all three can find relief at this same time.

“We’re looking at the quarter-penny tax for various needs we all have,” said the city manager, Tim Rundel. The legality of a city tax funneled also to the two districts, or a recreation district parcel tax to the city, is under scrutiny.

“We’re in discovery phase,” Rundel explained. “The city attorney is looking into whether a city tax can be used for one-time or recurring city expenses, and whether it can be used by the cemetery district and the parks and rec district.”

Rundel continued, “Sales taxes and the TOT are the two things we primarily rely on for the city’s needs.”

These sources of income dried up during the shutdown, when few travelers were on the highways and local residents were in shelter-in-place mode.

During the council meeting, Rundel said that furloughs the city put in place earlier in the pandemic are paying off now. He was referring to the one day a week that city employees stay home. Also, the city had to lay-off employees to meet payroll needs.

As for using the city’s share of a new tax, Rundel said the additional money would be go to “public safety – primarily fire, municipal services, salaries, capital needs.

“The quarter-penny tax would generate about $260,000 per year. It’s not a cure-all for what’s going on economically, but it would help.”

The council agreed to continue discussing and looking into what’s more beneficial overall, parcel or sales tax, according to Greene.

City staff expects to provide more detail during a special city council meeting later in June.