Weed's Measure M could solve problems for special districts

Mike Meyer
Mt. Shasta Area Newspapers
Lifeguards assemble at the beginning of the 2020 season at Weed's Bel Air Pool.

A quarter-penny sales tax increase could solve problems for Weed’s special districts. Measure M, which will be on the Nov. 3 ballot, asks Weed voters whether to increase the sales tax in the city a quarter of 1% to be used for parks and recreation, police and fire protection, street and cemetery maintenance and for an emergency reserve fund. 

The change represents a fourth of a penny for each dollar spent; on $100, the addition amounts to 25 cents.If passed, Weed would see an extra $260,000 per year.

“We rely on sales taxes and the TOT (Transportation Occupancy Tax) for the city’s needs,” said Weed City Manager Tim Rundel said.

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Travelers account for a large majority of the funds received from sales taxes, up to 76%. But sales tax and TOT funds were lowered in Weed during the pandemic shutdown. The two have remained depressed during a summer of smoky skies and low numbers of travelers.

"People are still not traveling like they were in past years," Rundel said recently.

The fall-off is a hardship for Weed, which is the reason city councilor Ken Palfini softened his opposition to the additional tax. In June, Palfini’s was the lone ‘no’ vote on the resolution to put it on the ballot. But last week he said the city needs additional money.

“I’m not a sales tax guy, but circumstances have softened the heart. First, there was COVID, and on top of that, you have the fires and smoke. The city is operating on a lot less money,” Palfini said Friday.

June and August sales tax numbers show the greatest decreases, with -38% and -71%, respectively. May and July showed increases, with 14.93% and 29%, respectively. The TOT shows much larger decreases. Every month was well off the comparable month in 2019. March had a 132.5% decrease, June a 61% decrease, and April and August with decreases 44.73% and 47.5%, respectively. July had the least decrease in TOT, with 15%.

Palfini’s opposition was also about the method that money was being raised for the parks and recreation and the cemetery districts. They are separate entities that are expected to have separate funding sources. “I was adamantly opposed (to the sales tax). The city shouldn’t be the taxing entity for other agencies.”

Flags fly along the fence at Weed's Winema Cemetery on Memorial Day in 2017.

Weed is asked for funds every year from the two districts. The city currently shares its TOT with them. Palfini said the TOT is intended to help bring visitors and, consequently, money to the city. Last June he argued that the two special districts hadn’t yet tried to raise funds by one of the methods open to them, which is to put a parcel tax on the ballot.

Councilor and Weed Recreation and Parks District Administrator Kim Greene agreed that using hotel tax funds for recreation was not the purpose of the TOT. But she said a parcel tax wouldn’t pass in Weed. After seeing what happened in Mount Shasta, she explained that it wasn’t feasible for the amount the districts would need.

“Mount Shasta asked voters for a flat $50 per parcel,” Greene said. “Twice, it was voted down.

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“In Weed, a large majority of parcels belong to the national forest, the state and the city. They don’t pay taxes. So we’d have to ask the remaining tax-paying parcel owners for much more than Mount Shasta asked, an enormous amount. I couldn’t see it passing,” Greene said.

Though sales taxes are not intended for special districts, the city council passed the June resolution to include the cemetery and the parks and recreation districts in the ballot wording. If voters pass the additional tax, the recreation department would use its share to repair Bel Air Pool. Greene said the pool would not open in 2021 without the repairs.

“The estimate for re-doing the inside of the pool is $190,000. We need locker room repairs, a heating pump. Actually, the whole building and everything in it needs to be refurbished,” Greene said, adding, “I don’t want our situation to end up like Yreka’s. Their pool has been closed for years.”

Green pointed to a silver lining if Measure M is approved: With the additional tax money, the city would see more of its TOT. 

“If it passes, the recreation department won’t be requesting TOT,” she said.

Also, in future years the district would not receive sales tax funds automatically, according to Weed’s mayor, Susan Tavalero. In June, the mayor said, “If the measure passes and the pool is repaired, we wouldn’t be compelled to give them money every year. We’ll be able to use it for something else.”

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A portion of Measure M funds would also become a source of funding for mainentnance of Weed’s cemeteries, including Lincoln Heights and Winema. The cemeteries’ three employees started out as volunteers years back. Now, the youngest of them is 70 years old, explained Greene, whose recreation department currently provides assistance to the cemetery.

“They don’t use commercial equipment. They still use the kind of lawnmowers and tools you use at home. Changes are needed, but that costs money,” said Greene.

“I’d hate to see the cemetery go back to what it was 20 years ago. If you had a plot, you pulled the weeds yourself,” Greene said.

The sales tax in Dunsmuir and Yreka is currently 7.75%; in Weed and Mount Shasta it is 7.50%. The quarter percent increase, if passed, would put Weed’s at 7.75%.

The previous additional quarter percent tax increase in Weed is divided between the library and senior programs, including the senior bus, senior lunches and snow removal for seniors, Greene said.