A measure to increase San Mateo County's sales tax by one-half cent will go before voters in November.
Measure A, which would be in effect for 10 years, has the potential to raise as much as $60 million annually for the county's general fund, preventing further cuts to parks, emergency dispatch centers, preschool programs, fire prevention and the county's safety net of services for children, families and the poor, according to its supporters.
The measure's passage would bump the county's sales tax from 8.25 percent to 8.75 percent.
Opponents of Measure A, who include Occupy Redwood City, Californians United for a Responsible Budget, and the Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association, have called the sales tax increase a "jail tax," insinuating that the revenues raised would pay for building and operating the county's new jail.
"Nothing could be further from the truth," San Mateo County Supervisor Don Horsley said. "This is not a jail tax."
Horsley said Measure A funds would help preserve "the safety net for people who really need help" by bolstering services such as health care for low-income children, transportation for the disabled, emergency room services and library programs for children and teens.
"I don't want to see those services cut," Horsley said.
The Board of Supervisors has already enacted budget cuts to services totaling more than $50 million, eliminated more than 500 county positions and frozen staff salaries since 2008, Horsley said.
Still, diminishing funding from the state and a sluggish economy have left a hole in the county's budget that could jeopardize the well-being of everyone who benefits from county services, he said.
"It's a huge burden and a huge responsibility," Horsley said.
Julia Bott, executive director of the San Mateo County Parks Foundation, agreed.
"Our community needs the funding to be able to maintain the quality of life that we enjoy here in San Mateo County," Bott said.
The county currently has more than $100 million in deferred maintenance projects scattered throughout its park system, according to official tallies.
Measure A funds would be used to pay for some of those projects and prevent the county's vast outdoor spaces from falling into disrepair, Bott said.
"Parks are not a mandated service, but they are places where we exercise, where schools go, where seniors go," she said.
Supervisor Dave Pine, who was the only member of the Board of Supervisors to vote against putting Measure A on the ballot, said the tax increase has the potential to negatively impact low-income residents.
"We're hurting the people we're trying to serve," he said. "It's much harder for low-income people to absorb."
Measure A requires majority approval to pass.
-- Bay City News
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