Tucson residents will vote in November on whether to raise the city sales tax by a half-cent and on a package of City Charter changes, as the City Council voted Wednesday to put both measures on the ballot.
The council voted 5-2 to put the half-cent sales-tax increase proposal on the ballot. Councilmen Steve Kozachik and Paul Cunningham voted no.
The increase, to fund four "core" services, would take the city sales tax from 2 percent to 2.5 percent to raise $40 million annually. It would increase the total sales-tax burden for city residents from 9.1 percent to 9.6 percent.
The council voted 4-3 to put the package of changes to the City Charter on the same ballot. Council members Karin Uhlich, Regina Romero and Richard Fimbres voted no.
The four charter changes - which will be voted on as one package, not individually - call for making the council a full-time job, with pay indexed to that of the Pima County Board of Supervisors. Council members now make $24,000 a year, with the mayor making $42,000. The change would bump pay to $61,280 for council members and to $76,600 for the mayor.
In addition, the proposed charter changes would give the mayor more powers, eliminate civil-service protection for department heads and their deputies, and shift the city election calendar so all council members would run in the same year, beginning in 2013.
Uhlich made attempts to change some of the charter proposals and to have the four proposals split into separate issues that would be voted on individually. Both measures failed 4-3.
City Budget Director Marie Nemerguth said the city's budget deficit for the year that begins July 1, 2011, is $40 million - roughly the amount the amount the sales tax would raise annually if passed.
The city would need to unload land at fire-sale prices and do asset lease-backs - the sale of government buildings for one-time cash that are then leased back to the government - this budget year if the sales-tax increase fails.
The co-chairs of the citizens committee set up to sell the sales-tax hike to the public told the council the increase is needed. The core services the tax revenue would be used for are police, fire, roads, and parks and recreation.
They suggested not putting the sales-tax proposal and charter changes on the same ballot for fear the issue of council members' raises could negatively affect voters' opinion of the sales tax.
The sales-tax ballot measure "will be difficult to sell," said Jaime Gutierrez, committee co-chairman. "I am confident if it's on the ballot the voters will do the right thing."
Kozachik pointed out that there is no "maintenance of effort" clause that would require the spending of revenue from the tax on the four "core" city services to be above the current level of spending. Without that, there is nothing preventing the city from just taking existing funds out of those services and using the tax revenue to replace those funds.
Romero said she wanted to see all transportation - including mass transit - included in the funding from the half-cent sales tax, not just street maintenance.
Romero said city voters need to decide what kind of future they want for Tucson. "I feel very, very strongly we need to ask the question of our residents," Romero said.
Contact reporter Rob O'Dell at 573-4346 or firstname.lastname@example.org