Claremont sales tax increase seems headed for defeat, but supporters not ready to concede

A sign reads "Vote 'YES' on November 5th! Measure CR."
Claremont residents remain split over Measure CR, a proposed 0.75 percent sales tax increase. (Chris Nardi • The Student Life)

A proposed 0.75 percent Claremont sales tax increase that supporters say would have boosted city revenues by $2.5 million appears headed toward defeat, with the “no” vote leading 51 to 49 percent as of Thursday night.

But with more than 1,000 ballots from Tuesday’s special election yet to be counted, a community group supporting Measure CR isn’t conceding.

Residents have been bitterly divided on the tax, which was projected to generate an additional $2.5 million in annual city revenue to address a budget deficit by raising Claremont’s sales tax from 9.5 percent to 10.25 percent — the state-established maximum local sales tax

Preliminary results from the Los Angeles County Registrar show the “no” vote ahead by just 122 votes in an election in which over 6,200 were cast.

“You can’t keep going back to the public and saying, ‘we’re going to raise your taxes, and you’ve got to pay for this.’ There’s got to be better ways of doing it.” – Donna Lowe, “No on Measure CR” committee member

More than 1,060 mail ballots and 326 provisional ballots are still outstanding, according to Laura Roach, a committee member for “Yes! For Claremont,” a group that lobbied for the tax increase.

While the opposition group “No on Measure CR,” has already declared victory, Roach said “Yes! For Claremont” is waiting on the remaining ballots to be counted.

“We could still eke out a win, and we are not conceding until every vote is counted,” she said.

An updated vote count will be released Friday, the Registrar’s Office said in a press release.

“We’re feeling pretty awesome,” “No on Measure CR” committee member Donna Lowe said. “I think this is a benefit for us and I think the city will be surprised to see that they’re probably going to gain more revenue by doing this.”

The measure would contribute to the city’s general fund, which supports services such as parks, youth and senior services, infrastructure and public safety.

“Yes! For Claremont” said bringing Claremont to the maximum sales tax rate could ensure Claremont receives a full 1.75 percent of sales tax revenues instead of its current 1 percent. 

“If [Los Angeles County] or another agency passes a regional sales tax measure before the city, it would capture the remaining potential sales tax revenues up to the state maximum of 10.25 percent and steer locally spent dollars to another agency’s budget while also limiting the city’s ability to collect its own sales tax in the future,” a report from the city’s Future Financial Opportunities Committee said.

Advocates for the proposal included all five city council members and the Claremont Chamber of Commerce, according to “Yes! For Claremont”’s website.

“We could still eke out a win, and we are not conceding until every vote is counted.” – Laura Roach, “Yes! for Claremont” committee member

“I want to express my deepest gratitude to all the community volunteers who worked so hard to get Measure CR passed. The results are disappointing,” council member Jennifer Stark PZ ’98 said via email. “I have confidence that together, we will find our way towards economic resiliency and a more cohesive vision of the future.”

The “yes” campaign said the increase was needed to address the city’s looming structural budget deficit, which the city projects will rise from $800,000 in the next fiscal year to $2.8 million by 2023.

But opponents worried the measure would place a regressive burden on low- and fixed-income residents and give the city a blank check to spend irresponsibly, Lowe said. 

Lowe said Claremont’s rejection of the tax-increase “could reverberate throughout California and send a clear message that the city governments need to clean up their budgets.”

“You can’t keep going back to the public and saying, ‘we’re going to raise your taxes, and you’ve got to pay for this.’ There’s got to be better ways of doing it,” Lowe said.

Local sales tax hikes have been on the ballot in 11 California cities this year, according to a Ballotpedia list. Eight passed with a margin of 20 percent or more. Based on current results, only Claremont looks poised to reject an increase.

Lowe criticized the city for what she saw as a pattern of irresponsible fiscal policy, including a failed acquisition of the Golden State Water Company and spending $55,000 on the election solely for Measure CR instead of waiting for the March primary. 

But members of the “yes” campaign said generating new revenue remains necessary to prevent critical cuts to city services.

“There’s no more fat to be cut from the budget,” Roach said. “The next round of cuts that they make are going to be things like youth and senior services.”

The city made $4.7 million in cuts over the past two fiscal years to achieve a balanced budget, city staff said in a presentation to community members. They warned that services like village maintenance, community organization/homeless funding, police enhancements, after-school programs and senior programs may be in jeopardy.

“We’re looking at the possibility of diminished maintenance and services in the village,” Roach said. “Those things are very, very important to our merchants. Those things are also very important to students and their families when they’re here.”

If the measure passes, 5C students would see higher taxes on many purchases made in Claremont, including at on-campus shops like the Huntley Bookstore.

“It would have made just about everything 5C students buy more expensive,” Claremont McKenna College accounting professor Matthew Magilke, an opponent of the measure, said via email.

Lowe and Magilke also questioned whether the state’s 10.25 percent local sales tax cap is enforceable.

Members of both groups said they regretted the division that debate over the tax increase had caused and hoped to work collaboratively with the city to pursue future fiscal health.

“Our committee is totally committed to doing what we need to do to reconnect and move forward,” Roach said. “I would love nothing more than to find an issue we can all work on together.”

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