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City wants to partner with county on sales tax increase

May 5, 2014

John Cortez of Big Pine checks out the toy aisle at a local store. Today, city officials are meeting with county leaders to discuss increasing the county TOT by a half percent, bringing the full tax to 1 percent. Photo by Mike GervaisJohn Cortez of Big Pine checks out the toy aisle at a local store. Today, city officials are meeting with county leaders to discuss increasing the county TOT by a half percent, bringing the full tax to 1 percent. Photo by Mike Gervais

Bishop City Administrator Keith Caldwell will be going before the Inyo County Board of Supervisors today to propose a joint increased sales tax that could help fund local services, such as police and fire departments for the city, and solid waste disposal for the county.
Officials in Bishop are considering placing a Transaction and Use Tax increase on the Nov. 4 ballot and are hoping the county will want to join forces in the effort to bring in much-needed revenue.
Currently, Inyo County charges a .05 percent TUT.
Under the city’s proposal – and if the county joins in and if the voters approve the increase – shoppers are looking at a half-a-percent TUT increase on taxable items, bringing the full tax to 1 percent throughout Inyo County.
The TUT on a $15 purchase, for example, is currently 7.5 cents. The TUT post-increase would be 15 cents.
The City of Bishop currently receives about one third of the county’s TUT proceeds, 40 percent of which are generated outside of the city and 33 percent of which, according to Second District Supervisor Jeff Griffiths, is actually generated outside of the county. By that math, 27 percent of the county’s TUT is generated inside city limits.
For the 2012-13 fiscal year, the TUT generated a total of $1,847,081, with just under $1.3 million going to the county and $554,124 going to the city.
Griffiths said the current formula for dividing the money between the city and county seems to be working, with both local governments receiving a fair share. The current proposal to increase the tax does not include a new disbursement formula.
According to City Administrator Keith Caldwell, who brought up the issue during the council’s April 14 study session, the city has been tossing around the idea of either putting its own “stand-alone” TUT increase on the November ballot or working with the county on a joint ballot measure.
There are pros and cons to each tack.
The city’s solo approach calls for doubling its TUT intake to 1 percent within the City of Bishop. The city would need to hire a consultant to conduct voter research, orchestrate a marketing campaign and generally get some favorable momentum behind the tax increase and get it on the ballot for Nov. 4.
Collaborating with the county, according to Caldwell and Griffiths, would not only make the tax increase easier to swallow, it would also produce the same amount of extra revenue for the city – doubling Bishop’s current .05 percent to 1 percent sales tax, for a total of $7.1 million a year.
The TUT, Caldwell told the City Council, “is a big part of the budget … it really helps us get through the summer time.”
The tax increase would help the county cover losses in its Solid Waste Department, Caldwell added. “Mr. Carunchio is very much interested in a joint effort,” he said, referring to Kevin Carunchio, the county’s administrative officer.
According to Griffiths, teaming with the county rather than going for a tax increase that only effects the City of Bishop “seems a more elegant solution” and wouldn’t create a situation where there’s different sales tax amounts being charged in different areas of Inyo County.
“We wouldn’t be reinventing the wheel with a new tax and we wouldn’t be creating that disparity,” he told the council.
Councilman David Stottlemyre, who is running unopposed in the June Primary for the position of Inyo County Tax Assessor, noted the money is needed by both the city and county.
“It certainly is a good boost,” he said. “We could all use it.”
Griffiths agreed. Both the city and county have done a good job over the past few years of “doing more with less,” he said, and have made concerted efforts to save jobs and preserve service levels in the face of shrinking revenue. “But we’re both at the point where there’s no more paperclips to cut out of the budget. Do we want to be a lesser-service area or have a half-percent higher sales tax?”

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