The Pasadena Star News, in their March 24th editorial entitled "Our View: No Treasure in Sierra Madre," made a great point:
"Take a look at what's going on in the small city of Sierra Madre, for example. Last year, with dire notice of a police department woefully underpaid and a city budget hemorrhaging red ink, voters in the Foothill Village were convinced that the city needed more money. So they raised their utility users tax by doubling it - from 6 percent to 12 percent ... Guess what? Now city auditors say there is an extra million dollars in the coffers. A budget year predicted to end on June 30 with a $315,000 deficit will now have a $46,000 surplus. For a small city such as this one, a million dollars is a lot of cash."
And then the Star News went on to ask the one million dollar question: "Was the tax plea done under false pretenses?"
Now there's a debate we could all enjoy taking part in.
How can it be that the City of Sierra Madre asked the people here to vote for a tax hike when proper audits hadn't been done in 4 years? Meaning that we didn't have ironclad information on what exactly our financial condition was? Here's how we put it earlier this month:
"At the time the Ad Hoc Finance Committee was deliberating about city finances, this town was in serious default on a very important Sacramento obligation. In the years 2002-03, 2003-04, 2004-05, and 2006-07, the City of Sierra Madre, despite very clearly worded State of California laws, had not supplied the financial audits of its budgets to the State Comptroller's Office. For each of the first three years Sierra Madre was fined $5,000 a pop for this lapse, with $10,000 being the damage for the year 2006-07. In other words, and I think this safe to assume, Sierra Madre did not have its books in order, and anything that the trusting souls on the Ad Hoc Finance Committee was being fed by City Hall was based on guess work, or worse. From the administration of Mayor Enid Joffe back to whatever was running the place in 2002, Sierra Madre's finances were being handled at a hillbilly level of competence."
(Note: The entire article can be found in this week's Sierra Madre Weekly. Newspaper and on-line.)
So if we accept what the Pasadena Star News is saying here, and I see no reason why we shouldn't, what exactly do we do about it? Do we, as Mayor Zimmerman has suggested, scrap the UUT hike because the numbers supplied to the voters were woefully inaccurate?
I called the Mayor to inquire about this, and the answer he gave me was rather surprising. He said that while he would like nothing better than to get rid of what is an embarrassing relic of the incompetent Old Regime, it's not all up to him. And while the City Council has the ability to repeal or rescind the taxes according to the wording of the UUT, it cannot completely undo the tax hike either. Why? Because only the voters could have approved this tax hike. And because of that the only way it can be completely and safely gotten rid of is to put it back on the ballot and have the voters erase it completely. After all, who knows what will happen in the next two or so years?
So that is where we're at. No matter how bad the information given to us when this matter was up for a vote the first time, the unhappy baby is still ours. But that also means that we can correct the problem the same way, by voting this tax hike out of existence.
Now some have argued that even with the surprise million factored in, our finances are still strained. And that if we gut the UUT hike, we'll be putting the city into possible financial peril. And I have seen numbers that give at least some credence to the claim.
Here's The Tattler Proviso on the UUT hike. The first election on this matter was fraudulent. The numbers supplied were bogus, with the small matter of finding an extra million dollars later on being proof of just how bad the lapses were. So let's put the tax increase on the ballot one more time, but this time back it up with honest and reliable figures. And then ask the voters whether we should keep the tax hike, or scrap it.
It's our money, and our City. This the only truly fair way of dealing with what has become a very embarrassing chapter in Sierra Madre's history.