With all the talk about city governments facing financial hardship, including bankruptcy, it's worth remembering that some cities have the opposite problem: a problem of abundance.
Take Palm Springs, that upscale resort town in the California desert, two hours east of Los Angeles. And consider this number: $1 billion dollars.
That’s the astounding amount of taxable money that has been spent in the city during the most recent fiscal year. It’s an enormous amount of money for a small town of about 43,000 residents.
I asked City Hall to run the numbers for me after learning that the first year of the voter-approved “Measure J” tax generated over $11 million dollars – nearly $3 million more than was expected. Since Measure J is a tax on 1 cent of every dollar spent, I wondered if it’s possible that a billion dollars was spent here?
“Yes,” says the city’s highly respected Director of Finance and Treasurer, Jeff Kiehl. “Roughly a billion dollars is a good figure in sales activity from July 1, 2012 to June 30th, 2013.”
And, Kiehl, adds, “Two thirds of that money is spent by visitors.”
In other words, it’s the tourists who are paying to rebuild our town -- supplying most of the $11 million Measure J money, which we’re using to fix the our infrastructure and build what will be the anchor of our new downtown, the Museum Market Plaza.
No wonder Palm Springs is the envy of other cities which are struggling. We have a problem of abundance: how to spend this windfall wisely over the next two decades that Measure J will be in existence.
And that vision for the city is sure to be the center of a candidate forum next Monday night among the four people running for Palm Springs City Council.
Incumbents Ginny Foat and Chris Mills will be joined by challengers Judy Evans Deertrack and Jeffrey Nichols.
The Oct. 7th forum is sponsored by the Palm Springs Neighborhood Involvement Committee. It runs from 6:30 to 8:30 pm at Desert Regional Hospital’s Sinatra Educational Center, at the corner of Tachevah and Via Miraleste. (I will serve as moderator.)
The forum will cover more than money, of course. There are serious quality of life issues on the minds of residents who submitted questions through the 33 neighborhood organizations.
And the election’s winners will have a rare opportunity to shape a city that is changing at hyper speed.
The signs of progress are everywhere: any figures you can name are approaching record numbers, from airport traffic to hotel visitors to real estate sales and prices.
But it is that $1 billion taxable sales number that is the real show stopper.
Treasurer Jeff Kiehl says, “Our sales tax, as well as our hotel tax have been going in tandem through the recession, and they are what have saved us as other taxes like property taxes have languished.”
And now with even property bouncing back, the City of Palm Springs can take a breath, have an election and execute a vision for ourselves that will shape the city for decades to come. ###