H-SANTA MARIA

Dec 6, 2011 10:09 PM by Ariel Wesler

Survey finds 71 percent support tax hike to improve public safety

Here's something you don't hear very often. There is overwhelming support for a sales tax increase in one local city. Santa Marians say they're willing to pay up to improve public safety in the city.

A recent research poll by the consulting firm Godbe Research found 71 percent of voters surveyed would support a temporary quarter cent increase in the city's sales tax. The money would help staff the new fire station being built on the northeast side of town. It would also restore police officers to the gang unit.

Despite tough times, many people living are concerned about slowing 9-1-1 response times. As the city continues to grow, some feel police and fire are essential services while others argue they're being taxed enough already.

The new fire station on the corner of Suey and Donovan Road in Santa Maria is beginning to take shape.

"When people are in need, seconds count whether they live or die," said Ron Stevens of Santa Maria.

He lives nearby and says a quarter cent tax is a small price to pay to improve public safety.

"Who knows? They could come right here to help me," Stevens said.

The new fire station is set to open this summer. It's being built with stimulus money, but the city says without a significant source of funding, it won't be able to staff it.

The fire department says in the last ten years, the number of emergency calls has increased by 80 percent. Meanwhile, the city revenue has plunged $10 million in the past four years and nearly 70 city jobs have been eliminated or unfunded.

"Every time we need money, it's let's raise the sales tax. Let's raise the property tax. Let's do this. Let's just find some common sense here," said John Rust, who doesn't support the tax.

He says the tax base should grow with the population and developers need to pay their fair share.

"Let's tax the builders on those and let them build the fire stations and the infrastructure for the things that are going to protect the stuff they're building," Rust said.

If the tax passes, you'd pay an extra 25 cents for every 100 dollars you spend.

Let's hope we never have to use them. That's how I look at it, but if we do we're gonna be awful happy we paid that extra quarter percent," Stevens said.

The city says the tax would generate about $4 million dollars a year, money that must be used in Santa Maria.

City leaders say the temporary tax could last anywhere from 7 to 10 years, but the survey also found the longer it lasts, the fewer people support it.

The proposal will head to the Santa Maria City Council in January. If approved, it will likely be on the June ballot and require more than 50 percent voter approval to pass.

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