Business council lays out terms for support on tax extension

City Hall

With the Hollister City Council last week officially placing an extension to the Measure T sales tax on the November ballot, the new executive director of the San Benito County Business Council attended the meeting and offered three terms under which the organization would support the idea.

Kristina Chavez Wyatt, who took on the executive director post for the business council in early May, spoke to council members at the May 7 meeting and laid out those three terms from the group. She noted that the business council in 2007 supported Measure T, the 1 percent sales tax in the city expiring next spring.

“Some of our members felt what was promoted during the campaign (in 2007) wasn’t what came to fruition,” Wyatt said in an interview with the Free Lance.

About two-thirds of voters in November 2007 approved the sales tax, which raises upward of $3 million annually for the city. Advocates pushing for the tax – particularly city staff – committed to using the extra funds to boost services, particularly public safety. After its approval, the city OK’d retroactive, current and future pay raises for existing employees – hikes that have since largely been rescinded due to a continually stagnant economy.

Wyatt said the organization’s members gave feedback and offered support for a Measure T extension on the November ballot under certain conditions.

Those conditions include:

-Recruiting an oversight committee with a broader cross-section of the community compared with panel compiled for the current five-year tax, “not just political appointees,” she said.

-Offering an objective, measurable economic development plan that includes incentives for business and curtails obstacles, while the business council would work with the city to develop the blueprint.

-Working more cooperatively with the business council.

“All too often business comes to the table at the end of the discussion,” the executive director said.

She said the group cannot hold the current council or staff accountable for what transpired after 2007.

Hollister Mayor Ray Friend, elected in late 2008 after the employees received raises, said he agrees there were “some curious misjudgments” by city officials following the Measure T approval.

As for Wyatt’s statement about a broader cross-section on an oversight committee, he said it would be “difficult to put together a committee that would satisfy most of the people” and stressed that the council would be held accountable either way.

“The council is responsible for that spending,” Friend said. “My concern is, everybody’s screaming about some economic development, but I don’t see anybody coming forward with any good ideas.”

Friend called Wyatt’s talk of a direction on economic development “vague.” He said he is open to meeting with the business council and that he planned to meet with city staff members Tuesday regarding a direction if the new measure fails at the polls.

“I’m open to talking to anybody about it,” he said.

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