Weed council hopes voters will support pool, cemeteries, police, fire with sales tax

Mike Meyer
Lifeguards at the Weed Pool pose for a photo when the season opened two weeks ago. The Weed Recreation and Parks District is worried that they won't have a season in 2021 if funding isn't found for necessary repairs. The Weed City Council hopes voters will support a quarter-penny sales tax which would go toward such repairs, as well as cemetery upkeep and police and fire, which are funded via the city's General Fund.

Next summer kids will still want to swim, play, water fight, and plunge into the Weed pool when it’s hot just like they are this summer. If repairs don’t happen over the winter, though, kids will have to find somewhere else to cool off next year because the pool would be closed. Weed Recreation and Parks District doesn’t have the money it takes to repair the aging pool.

This scenario was part of the motivation driving the city to find money for priorities that don’t go away, and are even further exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a result, the city is proposing to voters a quarter-penny increase in its sales tax. The additional money would help the recreation district repair the pool, would stabilize cemetery maintenance funding and would solidify back-up funds for police, fire and other departments in the city.

The city council voted 4-1 during a special meeting last Tuesday night, June 23, to put the sales tax question on the November ballot. If passed by voters, the additional money would amount to about $260,000 a year.

“It’s not a windfall but it’ll help,” said city manager Tim Rundel.

The resolution states in part, “... without a tax increase there are insufficient funds to maintain the Parks and Recreation Capital needs, Cemetery maintenance, and emergency reserve for Police, Fire, and street and maintenance improvements ...”

Rundel said the language for the tax was not a blueprint for future uses. Sales tax money goes into the city’s general fund, and the city council decides how it is used. But some of the quarter-penny proceeds would be used for the recreation and cemetery districts.

“Like now, entities will go to the council in the future and request a specific amount for a capital improvement. The council decides which projects get money, and how much.”

The council majority last Tuesday was united on the language that mentions the recreation and cemetery districts.

“The voters should see what they’re voting for,” councilor Stacey Green said.

In the case of stipulating money for the Winema and Lincoln Heights cemeteries, it seemed to be a matter of Weed looking after its own. The one full-time and two half-time cemetery employees started working some years back as volunteers out of a sense of pride, according to councilor Bob Hall. That was a time, he said, when the graveyards were rocky and weed strewn. Now the volunteers are paid employees, and the graveyards have become cemeteries with lawns. Yet funds to pay the workers to groom and maintain them still comes from a variety of unreliable sources.

“(The sales tax) would help the cemetery right now. And it would help them plan for 10 years from now,” Hall said.

The council was also united about directing some of the tax increase into repairs for Bel Air Pool. Once repairs are made the funds would be used for other projects.

“We wouldn’t have to give to parks and rec every year,” said Weed’s mayor Sue Tavalero. “We’ll be able to use it for something else.”

Before the vote, the council labored on the apparent disconnect between the sales tax, which is deposited in the city’s general fund, and specific wording regarding the districts, because they are separate entities from city government and, theoretically, would have separate sources of funding.

Councilor Ken Palfini asked staff whether language that mentioned the two districts could be removed, yet use the money for them. He was asking, he said, because, “the resolution is convoluted” as worded.

Weed city attorney Robert Winston came to the podium and to say the wording could be removed. “Municipal funds can be spent on the city itself, which includes city parks and city cemeteries. The wording explains where the money is going to be spent, but it’s not binding.”

“For me,” Tavalero said, “leaving the language in there is being honest with the citizens. It shows why it’s being put to them on the ballot – where it’s intended to be used.”

But Palfini, who cast the sole dissenting vote on the resolution, also questioned the use of a city tax for the recreation and parks district and the cemetery district.

“I understand everyone’s point of view, but what I’m questioning is the vehicle for getting these things done. I haven’t seen any fundraising going on, but they come to us (for help).”

Councilor Kim Greene answered the tax wasn’t the cemetery district’s doing. “This was our idea as a way to help them get away from the TOT (Transportation and Occupancy Tax) so the TOT funds can go to other people.”

The cemetery district asks for and receives TOT funds from the city, according to Greene, who is also director of the recreation department. Her office handles some of the administration for the cemetery district, processing pay checks and benefits. The cemetery workers had to be added to the recreation department employee roll. But this prevents the department from adding new employees without also triggering an increase in its minimum wage level.

Palfini understood, he said, but his objection was “the principle. We’re becoming a taxation entity for things we don’t have total control over. I think the sales tax is not the way help should come.”

In a separate interview after the June 23 council meeting, Palfini said the usual source of money for recreation districts – a parcel tax – has not been passed in Weed. Turning to the city before trying a parcel tax is hard to accept, he said.

“One should go before the other. Recreation can’t support itself, but the city needs it. The rec district has been working on a property tax for some time, but they think it won’t pass since it requires two-thirds approval by the voters.”

Palfini pointed out that Mount Shasta put a parcel tax before voters twice.

“It lost both times, but it was proper way to try to get funds. There were people in Mount Shasta with a lot of property who campaigned against it. I think they were short sighted.”

Asked how he expected Weed to pass a parcel tax when Mount Shasta voters wouldn’t, Palfini said, “the citizens of Weed are different.”

He pointed out that the people from Weed donated money after the fire to build the new community center. “Weed is a more giving city ... Weed should at least try, without a doubt. If your citizens don’t want a recreation program or for the cemetery to look nice, then you have your answer.”

A parcel tax was looked into, according to Greene. In a separate interview she said both she and the mayor worked with consultants and the county assessor’s office about the possibility of a parcel tax passing in Weed. The research showed a difference between what Mount Shasta could try and what Weed should try.

“Mount Shasta set its parcel tax as an amount, a flat $50 per parcel. In Weed, a large majority of the parcels belong to the city, state, and national forest. And they don’t pay (taxes).

“So we would have to charge an enormous amount on the remaining parcels, much more than the $50 that Mount Shasta tried and lost.”

At the meeting, Hall agreed with Palfini that the resolution was convoluted, but only to a point. “I’m in favor of it,” he said.

Palfini said that a sales tax is regressive and hurts the poor the most.

Kim Greene answered this, saying, “the people who live here won’t feel a quarter of one percent tax. The money the city sees will come from people off the freeway.”

Stacey Green, who works in The Weed Store, backed this up from experience. “For sure, most of the people I see are passing through. So I’m for the sales tax.”

Kim Greene relayed another immediate concern to the council. “If I need to write a check for something (as recreation director), I can’t do it, because we have nothing,” she said. “I have to go up to the county and ask for a check. But if we had 120k (from a new tax), I could find a matching grant for it.”

Greene also described the value of Bel Air pool to the county during the pandemic.

“We have four pools in Siskiyou County but only two are open. Yesterday, (Bel Air) was at capacity. The lifeguards had to ask parents to go outside the fence so they could let the kids in who were waiting.”