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Council approves sales tax measure for November ballot

The city council is moving full-steam ahead on placing a sales and use tax increase on the November 5 ballot.

The council voted 4-0 to pass the ordinance, placing the measure on the ballot Tuesday night. The measure seeks to increase the city’s sales tax rate by three-quarters of a cent, from 9.5 percent to the state cap of 10.25 percent. Councilmember Larry Schroeder was absent from the meeting.

The journey to this point has taken almost a year—the citizen-led Future Financial Opportunities Committee, which was created by former mayor Opanyi Nasiali, recommended the increase earlier this year.

The campaign to pass the increase is already in full swing—a “Yes for Claremont” tent was up during the July Fourth festivities, and fliers and a Facebook page have already been established.

Lee Kane, who is part of the Yes for Claremont group, noted during public comment that more than 100 endorsements were received during the holiday festivities.

The city wants to increase the sales tax to cover mounting structural deficits that are projected to balloon to $2.8 million by 2023.

The city has said it would probably have to cut services to balance future budgets if the measure isn’t passed, and highlighted multiple maintenance projects that had to be deferred to balance past budgets, including roof repairs, HVAC replacements and a new plumbing system at the aging Claremont Police station.

During public comment, resident Marty Slusser urged the council to use some of the tax money to support the city’s police officers, who are at odds with the city over a contract dispute.

“You talk about deferred maintenance, you have one going on right now with the police,” he said.

Martin McLeod warned that a higher sales tax could cause residents to go into Upland or elsewhere in San Bernardino County to purchase goods with a lower tax rate.

“These kinds of things give people an incentive to vote with their feet and spend their money elsewhere,” Mr. McLeod said.

Richard Rosenbluth was in favor of the increase, noting that any part of the sales tax that is directed to a specific use would increase the voting threshold to a two-third supermajority. He believes residents and visitors shopping and dining in Claremont most likely won’t even notice the new tax.

“I think you’ll find that most people by the time they get their bill with the extra percentage on it, will not remember what that was and will find that the meal or the items they bought are well worth it, even with the extra three-quarters of a percent,” he said.

City Manager Tara Schultz noted that Claremonters already leave town to get certain goods because the city doesn’t have big box store like Target or Walmart, something the city needs to look into in the future. But Claremont is a destination town for the region, with people coming into the city for date nights and other leisurely activities, she said

“That was one of the reasons why the finance committee liked this idea, because it’s not just borne by the residents, it’s contributed to by everybody, visitors and residents alike,” Ms. Schultz said.

Mayor Corey Calaycay reminded those in attendance that the county could swoop in and fill that cap, keeping money away from Claremont. He also wanted to respect a citizen-driven process. 

“Therefore I want to support that process, and I would point out that yes, people can vote with their feet, but the citizens of Claremont can also vote with their ballots on November 5,” he said.

Mayor Pro Tem Larry Schroeder was out of town, but sent a letter in support of the tax ordinance that was read in the council chamber by City Clerk Shelley Desautels.