City officials got word in mid-August that the federal government would grant $12.4 million to Chico for disaster recovery from the Camp Fire. Those funds, for infrastructure projects, follow $22.1 million in COVID stimulus money from the American Rescue Plan Act.
The city’s coffers would seem to be flush with cash. After all, the City Council conservatives passed a budget for fiscal year 2022-23 totaling $211 million—up from $142.9 million last year. They nearly doubled the spending on projects, from $44.4 million to $97.4 million, and bumped up operating expenses to $113.6 million.
But don’t let the figures fool you: Chico is not rolling in dough. That should be obvious by the condition of our roads, which are years behind in maintenance; same with the wastewater treatment system. Federal doles are temporary. The city can’t bank on bailouts.
That’s why the same conservatives who went bullish on the budget also placed a sales tax measure on the ballot. Chicoans will decide in November whether to add 1 percent on purchases to boost the general fund. The city estimates gaining $24 million a year.
Ironically, conservatives opposed an increase put forward under the previous, progressive majority. They flipped even while, as if by reflex, expressing a position against taxes. And there certainly are compelling arguments not to support a sales tax, such as disproportionately impacting lower-income citizens.
The measure comes as families grapple with higher costs of goods and services. That’s a big hurdle: How many want to pay even more?
The economy is, for the most part, beyond the city’s control. But council conservatives did this effort no favors by focusing on another measure: a “quality of life” initiative rushed for the general election. At the ballot deadline, they went ahead with an ordinance that, if voters approve, would force the city to respond to complaints of nuisances on public property within 20 days.
Progressive Councilwoman Alex Brown—who opposed the budget, the sales tax measure and the nuisance abatement measure—called the quality of life proposal “a performance art piece” aimed to appease the conservatives’ supporters. It’s hard to disagree, given the lengths the council went to get something—anything—on the ballot.
Which measure would truly improve the quality of life in Chico?