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New Santa Monica Tax Money Could Cover School District's Daily Maintenance, Officials Say
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Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica


By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

July 25, 2016 -- If a Santa Monica tax measure passes in November, the school district should use some of that potential revenue to meet daily maintenance needs, Financial Oversight Committee member Tom Larmore told the School Board last week.

Voters will decide on a half-cent sales tax proposal and a related advisory measure recommending half the revenue go to the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD).

This could mean an annual boost of $8 million for the district.

Larmore noted that extra money coming into the District is usually used to fill budget deficits.

“It’s easy to say we’re going to use that to plug the operating deficit, and we’re not going to add some additional costs to our budget,” Larmore said. “And I think that would be unfortunate because [maintenance] is something that’s really needed.”

He added that he has visited various SMMUSD elementary schools, and “it’s obvious that standard day-to-day maintenance is lacking.”

Larmore said using about half the money the district would receive through a new tax “would create a fund that would be sufficient to cure a lot of the maintenance issues that exist.”

SMMUSD finance head Jan Maez told the board that the district has a limited staff dealing with daily maintenance (as opposed to larger bond-funded construction and other improvements projects), which she said is true for most California districts that face regular budget cuts.

“We have many other uses for school district funds, so it is an area that sometimes gets underfunded in a budget cycle,” Maez said.

She said district staff have thought about what could be done with increased maintenance funding, but a full-blown plan has not been formed. This is something that could happen if the measures pass.

“Staff is already thinking very much about what a plan might look like,” she said. “We know what things need to be done. This would just give us an opportunity for a funding source.”

School board member Maria Leon-Vazquez said it would be good for the District to use a new source of income differently than it usually does, which she says is equivalent to “fixing the breakage of the dam with bubble gum.”

She continued, “Maybe we could look at doing a fix that’s going to be better so we’re not just putting bubble gum on. We’re actually looking at a larger plan so we know what it looks like, including putting together a good [maintenance] team.”

The technical name for the proposed revenue source is a transaction and use tax. It functions as a sales tax with some technical differences when it comes to large items such as vehicles, appliances and construction materials.

Santa Monica voters approved a half-cent transaction and use tax in 2010. That, too, was accompanied by an advisory measure calling for half the revenue to go to the District, which voters also approved.

A committee in favor of the current measures has been formed called Campaign for Public Education & Affordable Housing. An opposition campaign had not filed with the City as of Friday, according to the City's election website.

Arguments for and against the measures that will appear on the ballot are due to the City on Tuesday.

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