CHICO — There were various take-aways from Measure A’s failure on the March 3 ballot, some of them local and others beyond the control of the Chico Area Recreation and Park District, which hoped for success in order to trigger improvements.

The last break-down in votes released by Butte County’s election office on March 6 was 18,440 votes against or 52.44 percent, compared to 16,724 yes votes, with 47.56 percent.

The measure would have put an $85 annual tax on every commercial and residential parcel in CARD’s district

CARD was proposing that a $36 million project fund be created by borrowing if the parcel tax was approved. The parcel tax would have raised $3 million annually, with $2 million going for debt service and $1 million available.

Two-thirds vote

CARD General Manager Ann Willmann was disappointed, but said she wasn’t surprised, although a campaign team worked diligently to answer questions and convince voters.

“Surprised it failed? I’m not because a two-thirds measure is tough no matter who or what is putting that measure forward,” Willmann said Wednesday in regards to the need for a two-third supportive vote among active voters.

Because the measure was a tax, it took a larger percentage of support to pass.

CARD Chair Tom Lando initially was against CARD pushing forward with the measure, with the city considering a sales tax increase and other community issues such as safety and roads. Lando said he came around, but was still doubtful of the two-thirds vote needed.

“I always thought two-thirds vote would be difficult to get. I still believe the improvements are extremely important to the community’s future,” he said Thursday.

Lando said he was surprised that the measure didn’t get a majority at least, but also attributed that to the change from polling to mail-in ballot, along with fewer participating voters, among other factors.

There was opposition from the start, from answers to the consultants’ telephone surveys last year to public feedback and comments at community meetings, along with a robust anti-Measure A campaign.

Asked about the factors in the failure, Willmann said. “Some of the public feedback I got included that people were not interested in paying more taxes, and that they would like to see other changes in the community before CARD’s projects,” she said in reference to public safety and roads.

That anti-tax sentiment was felt beyond Butte County, with tax measures in Shasta and Tehama counties, along with the Bay Area and statewide failing March 3.

Other challenges to Measure A included the fact there was no sunsetting of the tax, and its link to an ever-increasing consumer price index, which meant the tax would go up.

CARD’s board had originally wanted the parcel tax as high as possible — at $110 — but later adjusted the level to $85. It also established priorities to be taken that reflected the master plan, capital improvement plan, facilities age and changes to existing park needs.

One of the major benefits would have been the pursuit of an aquatics center to replace an antiquated public pool that had been closed.

Lando said he thought the emphasis was too much on the swim center, “and not enough about kids, adults, year-round sports etc. It was broader than the aquatics center.”

Lando noted that the issue of pensions and paying them off hung over CARD.

“Even though we said — truthfully — that there’s a plan to pay off unfunded liabilities, people weren’t sure. Pensions are hanging over people’s heads.”

Measure’s cost

Overall, CARD spent roughly $132,500 on creating the measure, with $24,500 for EMC Research on a public survey, and $18,000 to Clifford Moss for structuring the revenue measure and communications. It also will owe the Butte County about $90,000 for placing the measure on the Chico ballot, although the county’s bill has not come through.

By law CARD could spend no public dollars on promoting or marketing the tax measure.

Willmann participated in a private campaign of support that did not come from the CARD budget or work on CARD time. Residents for Safe Chico Parks and Recreation raised money and created a campaign team that helped promote Measure A. Willmann said she volunteered with this group, working nights and weekends outside of her general manager’s job.

“It’s important to follow the rules and regulations as far as public entities using tax dollars to promote something. I gave up (private) time to make sure I was not on work time or using district resources (for the campaign),” she said.

Funding that group raised was used on signs, advertising, mailers, the phone bank, texting, newspaper ads and a consultant’s time.

Regarding the possible success of the proposed retail sales tax increase that the city is examining, Willmann said, “A lot will depend on how the proposal is structured. They’ll learn from our mistakes.”

Lando acknowledged that issues such as public safety and roads towered over recreational needs in voters’ minds, but at some point, the district’s needs must be discussed.

Next steps

Asked about what’s next, Willmann said, “We’ll look at tapping into our own budget and reprioritize the projects that use funds over a longer period. Rather than doing 10 things at a time, only one or two at a time.”

“Where do we go from here?” Lando said. “I think we need to figure out how to move the improvements needed along