By Ed Martin, Editor
Lemoore City Council sets the stage for a November one-percent sales tax initiative

Despite opposition, the Lemoore City Council, at its Tuesday night regular meeting, directed Lemoore’s city attorney to draft a resolution placing a “specific” one percent sales tax measure on the November California General Election ballot.

The measure, specifically for Lemoore public safety, including the Lemoore Police Department and Lemoore Volunteer Fire Department, is designed to “sunset” or end after seven years. The resolution will be ready for the next council meeting scheduled for July 7. Councilmembers originally toyed with the idea of a general sales tax measure, which would have required a simple majority vote to pass. A specific tax, like the one council members approved, requires a two-thirds vote.

Passage of a one-cent sales tax could generate between $1.8 to $2 million in additional city revenue.

Councilmember John Plourde pushed for the November sales tax measure. “It is in the best interest of the city” to vote for a tax increase to get out of this turmoil, he said. “We’re giving the citizens an opportunity to approve a sales tax.”

The decision came following a barrage of concerns and criticism of city leaders and questioned the city’s ability to handle its finances. “Has the city explored all options,” asked Roslyn Wong, a local accountant, and owner of Lemoore’s Bird Street Brewing. She suggested the city can’t balance its books.

“My concern here is accountability and responsibility, said Philip Wren. “You’re asking for a sales tax at a time when its people are hurting the most. People are now unsure and scared. The city is attempting to shove the sales tax down our throats with threats of lower police staffing.”

Local businessman and community leader Jeff Garcia also voiced opposition to a local tax. “It’s a tough decision. I just wish you would listen to the comments and make the decision the best you can.” He added that he thought a tax was bad for business and urged the council to reject it.

Lemoore Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Amy Ward suggested this has been coming for a long time. “Don’t make our citizens choose,” she said. “It’s your turn to lead. Lead us or make room for people who can.”

Lemoore Police Officer Mark Pescatore said local officers could be laid off if the resources aren’t available. “We need this tax on the ballot. There should be a clear direction from the council on how this money should be allocated.”

He added that the Lemoore Police Department has a solid reputation with the city’s residents. “They understand what is at stake and why we’re asking for this tax.”

Indeed, city officials, in recent months, have furloughed or laid off employees due to dwindling revenues, partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A one percent special tax will require a two-thirds vote in November to pass.

A vote has never increased the city’s sales tax. The current state’s sales tax is 7.25 percent, a rate shared by fellow Kings County cities Hanford and Avenal.  Corcoran succeeded in passing an 8.250 sales tax.

Nearby Visalia has passed sales tax increases and currently sits at 8.5 percent. Tulare has an 8.250 percent sales tax rate. Nearby Fresno has a 7.975 sales tax rate presently.

Lemoore City Attorney Mary Lerner presented council members with statistics that suggested many cities are passing tax measures to supplement city finances. For example, just this year alone, of 47 measures on local ballots,  25 of them passed, a little better than 50 percent. In 2019, of 11 measures on local ballots, 10 of them passed.

Despite opposition, councilmembers appeared ready to place a measure on the ballot and directed the city attorney to draft a resolution for the next council meeting in July.

“We’re not doing this to damage anybody,” said Councilmember Chris Schalde. “I’m a proponent of small business. I want everybody to live that happy dream. We all make choices. Vote on this, and if it doesn’t pass, we’re going to have to make some changes. I will take ownership.”