LAFAYETTE -- A discussion whether to take the temperature of a cross-section of voters on a variety of issues facing the city has turned into a heated debate over a possible sales tax measure to address those pressing concerns.

Plugged as an opportunity to gauge voter attitudes on a variety of topics including fire and emergency services, road repairs and increasing police costs, the survey was pitched to the city council this week by City Manager Steve Falk. He asked officials to consider hiring a consultant to help craft the poll and conduct the survey. That idea was blasted by residents upset about the potential $25,000 price tag. Some also proposed the city has a hidden agenda -- a tax rate increase.

"Let's get it right out front: 'Hey guys, we want to tax you,' " said resident Guy Atwood. "Let's get that right out front so the citizens know when they are asked a question -- if you do a survey -- what we're really trying to do. Let's don't hide anything."

Atwood's admonition and other public comments followed the city manager's explanation to the council that the push for the survey is being driven in part by timing constraints related to placing a sales tax measure on the November 2014 ballot. Falk said the city faces a number of public policy issues, including police contract costs that could increase $400,000 or more -- or roughly 9 to 10 percent next fiscal year -- and 7 percent for the following two years. That will have a significant impact on the city's budget and the council may have to make some difficult decisions when they consider the budget in May, Falk said. "One thing the voter attitude survey can do is help you understand what the public's priorities are when you are tasked with making some of those tough budget decisions," Falk said.


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With Mayor Don Tatzin absent, the council decided to wait until the next meeting to take action. But some council members said they don't feel comfortable with conducting a survey just yet, because they don't feel the city's problems are adequately defined.

"I'm a little concerned if we go out too soon we may not really know what exactly our need is yet," said Councilwoman Traci Reilly.

According to state law, the city can only put a sales tax measure on the ballot during an election in which council members are up for re-election, Falk said. Tatzin, Vice Mayor Brandt Andersson and Councilman Mike Anderson are up for re-election this November; Reilly and Councilman Mark Mitchell are up for re-election in 2016.

If approved, the survey would come six years after the city's last public opinion poll.

Once the city hires a consultant, he or she will work with the city to create the questionnaire and then bring it back to the council before the survey is conducted.

Should Lafayette pitch a sales tax measure and voters approve it, the city would no longer be the only Lamorinda community without a tax rate increase. Voters in neighboring Orinda and Moraga approved in 2012 sales tax increases to fund infrastructure needs.

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