El Centro Residents Attend Town Hall to Learn About Proposed Measures P and Q

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EL CENTRO — Dozens of El Centro residents attended a town hall meeting Thursday evening at the IID Conduit Auditorium to ask questions, give input, and express their concerns regarding Measures P and Q that will be placed on November’s voting ballot.

The meeting was hosted by the city of El Centro and led by Mayor Jason Jackson who is pushing for an increase of the city’s tax by half a percent in addition to increasing the Transient Occupancy Tax rate by three percent.

Measure P proposes to amend the current city Municipal Code and increase the local transaction and use tax by one-half cent effective April 1, 2017, bringing the total transaction and use sales tax to 8.5 percent.

Measure Q would increase the Transient Occupancy Tax rate (TOT) by three percent from the current 10 percent to 13 percent, also effective April 1, 2017. The TOT is a rent tax paid by guests who occupy a room or other space in a hotel or other similar accommodation for dwelling, lodging or sleeping purposes for a period of 30 consecutive days or less. The proposed increase would generate additional annual revenue of $480,000.

“The city of El Centro’s Transient Occupancy Tax rate has not been raised since 1992 and the sales tax since 1982. It’s time,” said Jackson.

El Centro resident Tomas Oliva questioned whether the city had conducted a study to determine the amount of the increase.

“Most of our surrounding cities like La Quinta and Indio are asking for one cent increase on November’s ballot,” explained Jackson. “We (El Centro City Council) didn’t want to overreach. We wanted to get a half cent, because that is what we need to bring our proposed projects to fruition. Responsible leadership called for a half cent, and that’s what we determined we needed.”

Oliva went on to question the veracity of the funds used for the proposed intent and mentioned Calexico’s Measure H fund disbursements.

“I remember in 2010, Calexico did Measure H and the council at the time was driving it to the people saying it was going to be used for public safety, a new fire department, a new police department, and at the end of the day they used it for parks and recreations,” said Oliva. “I am all for this and I know we have the commitment of the council, but five or ten years from now, how will we know that the council will stick to the promise you are making today?”

Jackson replied Oliva’s questions by saying Calexico was a perfect example of a city violating the ordinance.

“This council is very responsible,” Jackson claimed. “We work together as a team to do what is best for our residents and have determined as a whole that this is where our city needs to go. If you don’t start seeing dirt moving in a couple of years, then I fully expect all five of us (on the council) should be out of a job and voted out of office.”

Another resident questioned whether the additional half cent would drive away shoppers resulting in lost revenue for the city of El Centro.

Jackson answered by saying Calexico’s tax rate was already at 8.5 percent, which would be the same as El Centro’s proposed increase.

Darletta Willis, chief executive officer of the El Centro Chamber of Commerce, spoke on behalf of chamber members who recently contacted the chamber.

“We’ve had a lot of complaints about it, and as a membership organization, we’re here to support our members,” said Willis. “Membership is concerned.”

According to Jackson, it is anticipated this additional tax will generate an additional $5.5 million per year. Because Measure “P” is a general tax, the proceeds of the tax may be used for any general governmental purpose that pertains to the city, including but not limited to fire and police services, street operations and maintenance, the library, and parks and recreation facilities and services.

If approved, the period of the additional half-cent tax is 30 years and three months from its effective date. The tax will terminate without further action of the voters at midnight on June 30, 2047.