The city budget is facing deep cuts due to the COVID-19 pandemic, along with an estimated $11 million shortfall in hotel occupancy tax revenue, generally used to fund many of the city’s services.
But Councilmember Anthony Phan and Mayor Rich Tran think they’ve found a solution to the crisis: a tax measure proposal to fund the city’s public safety departments.
Tran and Phan have teamed up to push their case for Measure F, a quarter-cent tax increase measure set to appear before Milpitas residents on this November’s ballot. Should the measure pass, the duo says, it will keep emergency response times low, keep city services open, and establish more COVID-19 testing opportunities for the city.
Tran and Phan will coauthor the argument in support of the measure, which will appear in this election’s voting guide.
“The city is bleeding,” Tran said at an August 4 council meeting—a phrase that is set to make it into the text for the measure’s supporting argument.
Specifically, the quarter-cent tax measure increase seeks to control the bleeding from public safety resources.
Measure F, should voters approve it, will last 8 years and will increase the city’s sales tax rate from 9 percent to 9.25 percent. This will bring in an estimated $6.5 million annually for the 8 years, according to the city’s finance department. The measure needs support from a simple majority of voters to pass.
Revenue generated from the measure will be used to help avoid cuts to the city’s police, fire, recreation, and economic development budgets, according to city officials.
Both Tran and Phan say that should emergency services experience cuts—and the pair believe services like police and fire will see at least some budget reductions—public safety will suffer and emergency response times are likely to increase.
“We’re going to have to make additional cuts,” said Phan. “And this directly translates to the quality of service. Response times are going to be longer, and ultimately, Milpitas will be less safe. We need to be able to continue to provide high-quality services.”
He added, “I hate to say it, but If this [measure] doesn’t pass, then you’re going to see a lot of those services either disappear altogether or diminish in quality.”
Measure F won’t solve all the city’s foreseen response time problems, but the 2 councilmembers say the revenue spurred by the measure will help to soften the blow.
But since Measure F, like many measures of its kind, is a general tax, any revenue resulting from it will go to the city’s general fund, from which the council can direct the funds anywhere it chooses.
Phan and Tran, however, stress that the funds will only be used for maintaining city services. But placing the measure’s revenue in the general fund, they claim, will give the city “flexibility” to provide services and economic relief to residents quickly.
All revenue generated per the measure will be appropriated by a citizens oversight committee, although the scope and composition of said committee have yet to be determined.
But some residents are wary of tax increases during a pandemic. Such was a sentiment shared by Councilmember Karina Dominguez at the August 4 council meeting, where she claimed some residents “don’t have any money and are losing their homes,” and a sales tax increase could “break the working class.”
But the cuts, said Phan and Tran, are inevitable. And they say the burden placed on residents to offset those potential cuts is “very minimal in [residents’] daily purchases.”
On the other hand, if Measure F fails, the 2 councilmen say, the city’s emergency services will face even deeper cuts than are already planned. It’s an investment, Tran and Phan say, not only for the city but for the protection of families.
“A large part of the revenue that is going to be generated from this [measure] is going to be going back to the community,” said Phan. “We’re asking folks to lend a hand, but really it’s going back to them.”
If approved by voters, Measure F will take effect in January. The measure will cost the city approximately $30,000 to place on the ballot, which will come from the city’s reserve fund. The city also plans to spend $35,000 to $45,000 in reserve funds on a consultant tasked with raising awareness among residents about the item.