10:00 PM PDT on Thursday, October 7, 2010

By JAN SEARS
The Press-Enterprise

Half the money raised in the first year of a proposed half-cent Redlands sales tax increase would go to the general fund with the other half going to street improvements, as outlined in plan adopted by the City Council this week.

The amount going to the general fund, which has suffered shortfalls because of the recession, would decrease to 40 percent in the second year of the tax and then gradually decline to zero by year five, which would be 2015-16.

The money funneled away from the general fund, which covers the city’s operating expenses including salaries and benefits, would increasingly go toward street, sidewalk, park and recreation capital improvements and tree trimming.

If the ballot measure is approved next month, the San Bernardino County city’s sales tax would rise to 9.25 percent. The tax would sunset in 10 years and is expected raise about $4 million annually.

The council acknowledged that the document is merely a guideline and could be altered or ignored by future councils.

“To be frank, you can’t bind future city councils,” said Mayor Pro Tem Jerry Bean. “But as long as this council is here, we’re going to direct staff to spend this money in this way.”

The document was prepared by Councilman Pete Aguilar and Bean.

Their initial proposal showed 40 percent of the tax revenue going to the general fund for years two and three of the tax, declining to 30 percent in year four, 20 percent in years five and six, 10 percent in years seven and eight and zero for the last two years.

At Councilman Jon Harrison’s urging, the general fund support was trimmed. Harrison, Bean and Aguilar agreed that 30 percent of the money would go to the general fund in year three, 20 percent in year four, then zero for the remaining six years.

The money for parks and recreation improvements was gradually increased to a maximum of 40 percent by year five.

Street and sidewalk improvements would get 50 percent of the revenue for the life of the tax.

Harrison also suggested that future councils adopt a resolution at the start of each fiscal year stating how the money would be spent.

“So there would be absolute accountability,” he said. If it could be shown the money was not spent as directed, “it would be pretty obvious who was making a mistake and that would be addressed at the next election.”

Aguilar said that in preparing the guidelines, he and Bean had agreed that the revenue should not simply disappear into the city’s general fund.

“Our intention is that we fund infrastructure improvements that have been neglected for many years in this town,” Aguilar said.

Annually, streets and sidewalks would get about $2 million, park and recreation improvements about $1 million and tree trimming about $300,000, Bean said.

“These are all really laudable goals,” he said. “This is designed to help us get through the recession, fix our roads and streets and sunset after 10 years. I think it’s very well thought out.”

Several people spoke against the tax, including former Mayor Bill Cunningham.

“The important thing for you to do … if you have the courage, is to cut this budget to where it is livable. It is not livable right now,” he said.

Aguilar pointed out that as the council was cutting the budget last spring, residents lined up to plead for programs to be saved.

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