Parcel Tax Will Go to Voters

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

May 4, 2022

Morro Bay voters will be asked in November to approve a proposed parcel tax to support the Harbor Department, after a successful citizen-led petition drive qualified it for the ballot.

The City Council in April approved putting the initiative on the ballot that would charge $120 a year to every privately owned, residential and commercial parcel in town. The tax will raise some $680,000 a year.

Called the “Initiative Measure To Fund City Of Morro Bay Harbor Infrastructure Through $120 Special Parcel Tax With Revenues Used Only And Exclusively For Maintenance And Improvements To City Of Morro Bay Owned Harbor Facilities,” the tax comes out to $10 a month in perpetuity.

The proponents — Bill Luffee, Ron Reisner and Homer Alexander — had to collect valid signatures from 10% of Morro Bay registered voters. According to a staff report, they achieved it with room to spare.

The report from the City Clerk said as of August 2021 there were 8,268 registered voters in Morro Bay. Ten percent would be 827 signatures and after verifications by the City and County Clerks, the petition drive had 1,047 valid signatures.

Because it is a proposed tax, the City Council couldn’t simply adopt it, as it recently did with a petition to place on the ballot a ban on RV camping on the Embarcadero.

The council unanimously voted to place the parcel tax measure on the ballot as presented with no changes. If passed, the new tax would begin with the 2023-24 tax year, according to the City Clerk. It also contains an inflationary clause and would be adjusted annually.

Though it is being proposed for a specific purpose, as a citizen-led proposal, it needs just a simple majority to pass. “If approved by a majority of registered voters in the City of Morro Bay,” City Clerk Dana Swanson’s report said, “the funds collected would be used solely for maintenance of and improvements to City owned harbor related infrastructure, including but not limited to: City owned properties including public restrooms along the waterfront; docks; piers; sea walls; revetments; the Tidelands Park launch ramp, the Harbor Walk and City owned harbor structures.”

The City Attorney will write an impartial analysis that will appear with the measure and voters can submit pro and con arguments, with the deadline set for the close of business on Tuesday, July 22. 

Rebuttals to those arguments are due by close of business on Tuesday, Aug. 2. (Check with the City Clerk about how to do this.)

Officially the proposed ordinance is the “Morro Bay Harbor Infrastructure Act of 2022” and would go into the municipal codes as Section 3.27.010.

The parcel tax would be a major change in how the Harbor Department is funded. Currently, nearly all of its funding comes through lease site payments by waterfront businesses, plus slip and dockage fees. 

The department’s oversight includes all water areas in the harbor, but only the land areas on the west side of The Embarcadero, with a couple of exceptions. The properties on the east side of the street are all privately owned with the exception of Centennial Parkway (Giant Chessboard Park), which is the City’s.

While the revenues are enough to pay for the department staffing, it leaves very little to tackle maintenance and capital projects, which now total over $10 million. 

The City Council has long looked for additional revenues for the Harbor Department, including paid day use boat and trailer parking at the launch ramp, and a pilot RV camping program, which though fairly successful, the Council recently put the kibosh on.

Another minor revenue enhancer has recently arisen, as the department is currently auctioning off the tables and walls it had used for the RV camping sites. 

The auction includes numerous 8-feet long, wooden and steel framed, picnic tables, and portable, free standing, solid wood walls, 14-feet long.

Also on the block is a 1995, Radoncraft patrol boat and trailer all being sold through SLOCAL Estate Auctions (see: slocalestateauctions.com/auction/harbordept_boat_picnictables_harborpatrolboat).

Bidding on these items closes May 18, according to the auction website.

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