10:00 PM PDT on Wednesday, July 28, 2010

By JAN SEARS
The Press-Enterprise

The Redlands City Council today will consider asking residents to approve a half-cent sales tax measure on the November ballot.

The council conducted a July 20 public hearing on the tax and agreed afterward, on a 4-1 vote, to put the measure on the ballot. The action requires a second vote, scheduled today because Mayor Pro Tem Jerry Bean will be unavailable for the next regular meeting Tuesday.

Putting the tax on the ballot requires approval by four of the five council members. Mick Gallagher said last week that he wouldn’t vote for it. Councilman Jon Harrison will be out of town but will attend by phone.

In introducing the issue last week, Councilman Pete Aguilar cited a city survey that showed 51 percent of those queried would support the tax measure.

“My position is the residents need to be part of this process,” Aguilar said. “Voters need to decide what type of city they want to live in and what type of services that city should provide.”

The city’s general fund budget includes some revenue from the sales tax, assuming that it will be approved. If the measure fails, the city’s deficit will rise to about $1.3 million from the current $877,000.

During the public hearing, several people criticized the city for spending too much on salaries, pensions and tuition reimbursements for employees. Former Mayor Bill Cunningham pointed out that the city’s budgets have grown larger every year and that about half of the city’s employees live out of town, presumably spending their pay elsewhere.

The tax was endorsed by the police and firefighters unions and the Redlands Chamber of Commerce.

Jeff Screnka, who offered the chamber’s endorsement, said the city must develop an economic model detailing how it will pay for its operations. “The city sales tax could never pass if residents are not convinced that it’s part of an overall, long-term plan that will provide for the fiscal stability of this city,” he said.

Patty Peoples, a city recreation commission member, said budget cuts and layoffs have “hurt the youth and the recreation department drastically. Down the road, that’s going to affect crime in this area.”

Gallagher, a Redlands jewelry store owner, said he doesn’t support the tax.

“I really feel I’m doing my job by not sending this to the voters,” he said. “You sent me here to do this.”

Mayor Pat Gilbreath said she doesn’t support the tax, either. She said it’s not right that downtown merchants should have to charge a higher price than businesses in nearby Citrus Plaza, outside the city limits.

“I’m not going to support the tax, but I support the voters making the decision,” she said.

Bean said that in his two years in office, progress has been made toward reining in city spending.

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