Andrew Edwards, Staff Writer
Posted: 04/29/2010 05:49:57 PM PDT

SAN BERNARDINO – City policymakers may ask voters to consider several taxes this year as City Hall managers struggle to solve a $24 million deficit.

New or increased levies could include a tax on property sales, higher hotel taxes, new warehouse and quarry taxes and a parcel tax to finance library and parks programs.

If the City Council decides new taxes are the only way to avert drastic budget cuts, San Bernardino voters have to agree before the new levies can go on the books. The earliest vote could take place on the Nov. 2 election.

“We’re just in a bad situation right now and we’re going to need some help from the community,” 6th Ward Councilman Rikke Van Johnson said Thursday.

New taxes and dozens of other budget proposals are part of City Manager Charles McNeely’s first round of ideas to solve a projected $24 million budget deficit.

A full budget proposal for the fiscal year beginning July 1 has not yet been released and approving a budget could take weeks – if not months – of debate and negotiations.

Proponents any taxes would face the challenge of convincing recession-weary voters to open up their wallets in order to preserve existing city operations, rather than getting something new for their money.

The last time San Bernardino residents approved a tax hike was in November 2006. That was when the electorate passed the Measure Z sales tax increase on the promise of getting 40 additional police officers.

The Police Department has hired cops with the tax dollars, but the budget shortfalls of the past few years have resulted in the police force being about 20 officers short of its maximum authorized size of 350 cops.

Thus far, the council has not agreed on whether to put any taxes on the ballot. While Johnson sees new taxes as a necessary means to prevent deep cuts to the full range of city operations, 2nd Ward Councilman Jason Desjardins is opposed to virtually any new taxes.

“Nobody, nobody wants to pay an extra (tax) over what they’re paying now,” Desjardins said, referring to his own ward’s residents. “Especially now. Everybody’s retirees and fixed-income.”

Desjardins said he views most of the tax proposals as little more than ways to prop up the six-figure salary and benefit packages paid to many city employees. The one tax on the proposal list that he likes is the proposal to increase the property transfer tax, which would be paid upon the sale of real estate.

The property transfer tax’s current rate of is $1.10 per $1,000 of sales price, with half of the revenue going to the city and the other half to San Bernardino County. McNeely has estimated that raising the tax to $5 would raise $3 million per year.

Desjardins said he likes this idea because he thinks it could discourage house-flipping. The notion gained some support during a Tuesday night budget hearing, although other council members recommended changes to the basic proposal.

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