Unless, of course, you have figured out a way to not pay your taxes to Uncles Sam and Jerry. And if that is the case, then maybe you'll kindly share your finance secrets with us here?
This really is a conundrum, however. On the one hand we have the City of Sierra Madre and its City Council telling us that the budget is balanced and the bills are all being paid. All $4 million dollars of 'em in the month of June alone. But then on the other hand we have the UUT Oversight Committee handing in a report that says things are so bad City Hall needs to raise utility taxes again. All the way up to the 12% Measure U maximum rate.
Are they all reading off the same ledger? Dealing from the same side of the deck? And since when did the UUT Oversight Committee start setting tax policy in this town? When I was on that committee all we did was look through old Police and Fire Department bills for unauthorized beer and donut purchases.
If I'm reading the agenda for tomorrow night's City Council meeting correctly, it states that the UUT Oversight Committee report, which will be discussed by our elected officials, is a receive and file only. But that is not what two of Sierra Madre's foremost journalists are telling us this week. I don't know where they're getting their information (well, I actually sort of do), but according to them this Utility Tax grab is pretty much a done deal.
We'll start off with Bill Coburn, who issued this following report over the weekend on his completely comment-free Sierra Madre News.net site.
UUT Likely to Increase to 12% at Tuesday's Council Meeting - The staff report for Item 3 on Tuesday night's City Council Agenda includes a recommendation by the UUT Oversight Committee that the Council increase the UUT rate to 12%. The Oversight Committee voted 3 to 2 to make that recommendation. According to the staff report, the recommendations state that for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2011, staff has estimated the UUT revenue will be greater than the base year (2008) revenue by $1,332,939, while public safety expenses for 2011 will be greater than the base year by $2,192,299.
Well yeah, you don't increase the SMPD all the way to 36 cops without running up a fat tab. And come to think of it, with every tenth car on the streets of this town now a police cruiser, that must explain why they've installed an application for paying traffic tickets on the new City of Sierra Madre website.
Apparently we have become that proverbial cliche' of the small-hearted little town, the place that exists as little more than a venue for handing out traffic tickets.
Susan Henderson, publisher of the always grammatically challenged Mountain Views News, also weighs in with a "taxes are going up" vibe.
On the agenda are the (sic) final report of the User Utility Tax (UUT) Oversight Committee which recommends that the city increase the UUT to 12% in the fiscal year 2012. "The UUT Oversight Committee was formed to review and make recommendations concerning the audit and appropriate expenditure of the funds collected by the increased UUT."
Actually the UUT Committee was formed to make sure that the additional UUT funds collected after Measure U was passed were actually spent the way that they were intended by the voters. Making recommendations about tax policy to the City Council is something completely new.
I have a theory, though. Some of you might recall John Buchanan commenting a few months back about how the UUT Oversight Committee would be doing things a little differently this go around. I didn't pick up on it at the time, but it appears the purpose as he saw it was to have the Committee recommend that utility taxes go up 2% so it wouldn't appear as if it was the G4 Council's idea.
This is hardly the first time Mayor Buchanan has used a resident committee to justify a tax grab. Apparently he thinks of such things as human shields.
The Hysteria Whine
Hail "Bopp" Hamilton gets positively hyphy in this week's Looney Views News over what he sees as the coming destruction of local government. Never mind that many such governments, including ours, seem incapable of making the same kinds of adjustments that private companies have been forced to make over the last decade. Instead let's just have a big old panic attack and raise utility taxes, water rates, fees and business license costs, and then start getting ready to unleash the biggest bond sale in Sierra Madre's history. All the while continuing to spend at a record pace.
Here is how Purple Prose Hail hyperventilates on the topic:
Small cities in California, like Sierra Madre, face one of the most daunting and widespread fiscal crises in decades - and it's only just the beginning. As a whole, these cities face nearly 3 percent budget shortfalls on average this year. And the sense of trepidation is ubiquitous across a diverse range of metropolitan areas, regardless of which aspect of the national crisis impacts them the most: declining consumption rates and increased property foreclosures; job losses in manufacturing or financial services; or record state budget shortfalls ... Sierra Madre could be been (sic) especially hard hit, experiencing a one-two punch to its key revenue sources, as a result of declining consumer spending (sales taxes) and depressed home values (property taxes).
Despite all of that "ubiquitous trepidation," sales taxes have never been a real producer of revenue for this town. And unless the value of your property is somehow adjusted downward by an assessor, you'll still be paying the same old property taxes you've always paid. No matter what the housing market happens to be doing.
People sometimes confuse the fiscal health of City Hall with what is going on in the town. Just because local government is having its problems hardly means that the condition of the community as a whole is bad. As a matter of fact, a community that functions well through the talents of its residents, rather than whatever it is the hired out-of-town bureaucrats and functionaries are up to, is probably the far better off place. In other words, just because City Hall is having trouble making ends meet does not mean the town has a problem. Life will still go on, and most people will not even know or care. Unless you raise their taxes, of course.
The relevance of small City government in the lives of those living under it's jurisdiction often being vastly overstated.
But as for what Hail and the rest of the Chicken Littles are saying? Somehow I get the feeling that we're going to be hearing a lot more of that sort of thing for a while. And why is that? It's tax-raising season in Sierra Madre. Once again.
And they always say these sorts of things when they want more of our money.