UPDATE: 12:40 p.m., Tuesday, July 24: This story has been updated to include why the Fresno for Parks sales-tax proposal is not on the Fresno City Council agenda for this week.
A measure to raise the sales tax to boost Fresno parks is all but assured to be on the November ballot.
A petition submitted by the Fresno for Parks group received verification from the county clerk on Monday (July 23) afternoon.
That means that the Fresno City Council will vote to submit the ordinance at its Aug. 9 meeting.
Fresno for Parks is asking city voters to approve a 3/8ths of a cent sales tax to be used specifically for parks and related programs. Supporters estimate it could raise $38 million a year.
Approval from two-thirds of Fresno voters is needed to pass the sales tax.
Fresno for Parks submitted more than 35,000 signatures. They needed a shade more than 23,000 to qualify. Fresno County Clerk Brandi Orth used the sampling method of verifying the signatures. State law allowed her to examine 3%, or 1,056 signatures.
The sampling results showed 117.9% validity rate. How is that possible? The state uses a complicated formula (think NFL Quarterback Rating) that can be read here.
The council still has to set the Aug. 9 meeting, which was not on the calendar set in January. However, the council is set to vote on adding it this Thursday (July 26) at its regularly scheduled council meeting.
Councilman Steve Brandau floated the idea of adding the item to this week’s agenda, but time ran out, according to Council President Esmeralda Soria’s office.
“Our office was not noticed of the County Clerk’s random sample results until yesterday (July 23) afternoon. The required 72 hour public posting period was already being diminished. Items impacting all city residents should be posted in a transparent way to allow public participation,” Soria’s Chief of Staff Terry Cox said in a statement.
As council president, it is Soria’s role to set the agenda.
“Considering the resolution deadline is Aug. 10th at 5 p.m., and this being a very important issue to residents, it was decided the Aug. 9th meeting was most appropriate,” Cox continued.
While one state law, in theory, gives the council two options, in reality, it has one. Election Code 9215 allows a council two choices when presented with a verified petition: adopt the ordinance or submit it to voters.
However, Government Code 53722 states that any special tax must be voted on by voters. A local government may not approve a tax directly.
This conflict is likely to be moot since it is doubtful the council would adopt this tax measure — even if it could.
There is one unanswered element of EC 9215 — the ability of the council to ask the city staff to create a report on the effect of a petition. City staff has 30 days to complete the report, and the council has 10 days to decide upon it.
If that happens, then the council would not be able to approve the petition by the Aug. 10 deadline to place measures on the November ballot. In that scenario, the ballot measure then would roll over to March 2020.
In theory, a report is done to help the council decide whether to adopt the sales tax outright. But if that isn’t an option, can the council still call for a report?
That would be an answer for lawyers and judges to decide if it got to that point.