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Del Mar

Del Mar to survey residents on possible sales tax increase initiative

Del Mar residents will help decide whether the city should move forward with a ballot measure that would raise the sales tax.

The Del Mar City Council on June 20 authorized spending more than $24,000 to survey voters to determine the support for a one-cent sales tax increase initiative for the November election. Sales tax in Del Mar is currently 8 percent.

“I just want to know whether we have any possibility of getting a measure passed,” Deputy Mayor Terry Sinnott said.

The city’s Finance Committee initially proposed raising the sales tax as a way to help pay to underground utility poles throughout the community. A one-cent sales tax increase would generate about $2 million annually for the general fund.

With election deadlines approaching and an already crowded ballot, the council originally decided to continue studying the potential measure rather than place it on the ballot this year. A few weeks later, however, the council decided that the tax hike could help pay for other large public projects, including implementing the Shores Park master plan and improving streetscapes.

A general purpose tax would require approval by a simple majority, whereas a tax used for a specific purpose, such as the undergrounding project, must be approved by two-thirds of the voters.

With the time constraints, Assistant City Manager Mark Delin said the city did not conduct a full request for proposals process. Instead, staff contacted two local firms that have previously worked with the city.

The council awarded the contract to True North Inc., which submitted a $21,725 bid to target about 400 respondents via phone, email and mail, with online follow-up efforts. The poll could include up to 75 questions and would have a margin of error of plus or minus 4.8 percent with a 95 percent level of confidence. The city will also have to cover an additional $2,500 for mailing costs.

Probolsky Research also submitted a bid. For $14,700, the firm would have targeted up to 200 respondents using a phone survey, also with online follow-up efforts. The poll could have included up to 20 questions and would have had a margin of error of plus or minus 6.6 percent.

Despite the difference in price, staff recommended True North based on the belief that “a mail-based component is important to help reach Del Mar’s diverse likely voter population.”

According to the staff report, the number of responses will improve the ability of the city to “derive meaningful, statistically reliable guidance” on whether it should go forward with the tax, how best it should phrase the ballot language and how the arguments in favor of the proposition should be written.

“Previous staff work with True North has been very highly respected,” Delin said. “They also have hundreds of successful sales tax ballot measures to their credit.”

Because the council only has until August to make a decision on ballot measures, Councilman Don Mosier questioned whether the survey could be completed in time.

“I just have a hard time believing that this complicated survey could get done and reported in the timeframe that we need it,” Moiser said.

Noting that the survey would likely be conducted after the July 4 weekend, Moiser added that the timing is bad.

“You’re asking people who haven’t been thinking about all these issues to think about it during vacation time,” he said. “I’m afraid that whatever information you get is not going to be highly predictive of what might happen in November.

“My fear is that we’re going to push this through too fast, the community’s not going to be with us, the opposition’s going to get organized … and it’s going to go down like most tax measures we’ve tried in the past and then we’re going to be stuck for another couple of years,” he added. “I have big qualms about doing this survey so quickly in this short timeframe and getting sufficient guidance to put this on the ballot.”

City Manager Scott Huth told the council that the survey could be completed in time to make the ballot, but that the city has to “move very quickly.”