Council’s vote last week approving Measure F funds, a half-cent sales tax for marketing, has angered many Novato residents, who say they voted for the measure as a way to save essential services, such as police, parks and road works, not help the city hold a PR campaign.
But in follow-up interviews this week, council members defended their move, saying the $370,000 set aside for marketing—out of more than $20 million that will be raised from the tax—would prevent them from having to ask voters to extend Measure F.
“Marketing is not a vital city service, but it’s a path to get there,” said Councilwoman Jeanne MacLeamy on Tuesday. “You need to use some of that money to grow it. We can’t continue without revenues…You don’t get the high- paying jobs just by wishing them.”
Councilwoman Madeline Kellner explained that Measure F funds are “one-time money” that can’t really be used for salaries, since employees would have to be let go when the funds ran out. The city is also facing a $300,000 budget deficit, skyrocketing pension obligations and retiree healthcare costs.
(The city is expecting to receive fresh numbers from CalPERS later this month.)
“We tried to do what we could to reduce our expenses, including laying off more than a quarter city staff, before going to the voters,” Kellner said, saying that many Novato residents have thanked her for voting 'yes' to put aside money for marketing.
“And it’s not just the marketing. It’s working with College of Marin and the Buck Institute to make Novato an attractive destination for companies,” she said. “People are excited about bringing high paying jobs.”
Last week the council voted to approve giving Economic Development Director Chris Stewart $292,000 for direct mail, brochures, trade fairs and other marketing materials to recruit life science companies to Novato. The city wants companies to settle into laboratories on the Fireman's Fund campus—which has more than a 50 percent vacancy rate, Buck Institute or Bel Marin Keys, the latter of which has many properties zoned for light manufacturing.
Mayor Pat Eklund was the lone opponent of the vote, saying voters believed Measure F was a stop-gap measure to prevent service cuts amidst the financial crisis.