Ontario city leaders seek input on sales tax plan

By Pat Caldwell

The Enterprise

ONTARIO – The Ontario City Council will seek input from residents next week regarding a proposal to resurrect a sales tax for the city.

Public forms are slated at 6 p.m. Monday, March 20 and 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 22 ; and noon Thursday, March 23, at the Four Rivers Cultural Center.

A sales tax proposal is not a new idea. City voters rejected one more than 10 years ago. The need is now acute because of declining revenues, said Ontario Mayor Ron Verini.

“We have a choice. Either come up with revenue enhancement or decrease the services to our community,” he said.

Verini said elected leaders want to hear from the public about what the next step should be, whether a sales tax or some other revenue generating idea. The city hasn’t proposed a public vote yet.

Verini said the sales tax blueprint is still being finalized.

“We don’t know the exact number,” he said regarding how much revenue the city hopes to collect. Questions also remain regarding how the tax would be implemented, he said.

“We also don’t know the complexities of who we are going to exclude as well as include,” he said.

The city estimates a 1 percent sales tax would produce $1 million to $2 million, he said.

Ontario City Manager Adam Brown said the city is seeing increasing demands for its services. He noted those services are used by about 68,000 people a day.

“The tax base supporting that is only 11,000 plus,” he said. “It is difficult to support that kind of day-time traffic with a small residential population,” he said.

“A sales tax is one way to spread the equity and the burden of the people who use it – city services, roads, water, sewer our restaurants and our health care system,” he said.

The prior sales tax proposal proved to be controversial but Verini said he doesn’t anticipate such resistance this time.

“I don’t think it will be as hard a sell to the citizens because the needs are so much greater than what we were talking about in the past,” he said.

Verini said the city has already made cuts to save money and it still faces a potential budget shortfall after the 2018-2019 biennium.

“We have closed the golf course, we have closed the pool, we had moved the 911 center out of Ontario to Vale, we have eliminated our public works department and gone to CH2 to provide services at a reduced cost,” he said.

Verini also said the city has outsourced its finance department and slashed other costs such as the frequency streets are swept and chip sealing.