Monday, June 27, 2011

The City of Sierra Madre Spends Over $4 Million In the Month of June -- Begins Discussion About Raising Utility Taxes Tomorrow Night

If there was ever a month where the City of Sierra Madre spent more money, I've never heard about it. And I do understand, a lot of that $4 million came out of various funds and grants and all. It's not just General Fund cash. We've certainly heard about that enough. But do you want to know something? No matter what federal, state or local agency that money may have come from, it is still our tax money. And that is what really makes it all happen.

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.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

69 comments:

  1. The UUT oversight committee was put in place as an effort to restore public trust after a series of Sierra Madre city council created disasters: the One Carter Hillside Destruction, now known as Stonegate, the failure of Measure F, a tax 'to save essential services,' and the Downtown Destruction Plan, stopped cold by Measure V.
    The UUT passed because it has a sunset clause, and because as usual the citizens of Sierra Madre step up to give when they must for what truly are essential services - those involved in public safety. And it passed because an oversight committee was going to guarantee to a suspicious public that the money generated would go where it was supposed to go.
    That the committee is now advocating for the highest increase possible, despite all of the sunny mayoral proclamations of our financial well being, is a betrayal of the reason it was formed in the first place.

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  2. How much would the city save by keeping the pool open, but shutting down the rest of the Recreation Department?

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  3. How much could the city save if only one police car stopped a traffic violator instead of three cars responsing? I've witnessed three such stops where there are three cars to one. And as for Hail, he spent all his credibility in April, 2010. Sic 'em Tattler.

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  4. Just a comment from yesterday's subject. There has not been a bigger supporter of the volunteer fire department than MaryAnn MacGillivray. They turned their backs on her and fabricated stories that would make your hair stand on end. So, if they go by the wayside, it is their just desserts.
    Thanks, Bamberger for destroying our volunteer fire department.

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  5. The 3 members of the UUT Committe that voted for this tax hike are suckers. they have been played.

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  6. OK..we know there is something fishy..so what are we going to do about it?Maybe we should request outside agencies to investigate and audit City Hall!Otherwise,it appears that the residents can continue to look forward to more questionable pillaging by the shady 4!

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  7. These people are a;ways crooked. Nothing is ever on the up and up.

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  8. I hear Kevin Brennan is Nancy Walsh's relative; two other members are SMVFD. There's three for raising the UUT. Talk about stacking the deck!

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  9. If I have to pay another couple of hundred for the UUT tax grab I'm going to very carefully and publicly stop patronizing downtown businesses, donating to the Friends of the Library, and I'll be damned if I ever give another dime to the Sierra Madre Rose Float.

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  10. Every two weeks I send an annotated City Council Agenda to Governor Brown and State Attorney General Kamala Harris asking for an investigation. I know, I know. It's like pouring $2.56 down a rathole. But maybe just maybe it'll grab someone's attention and we can get a Secret Grand Jury going to look into the last ten years of our City's corrupt government. Keep your fingers crossed.

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  11. 6:42 am, I wouldn't - on principle - contribute to an organization that would have Rob Stockly on it's board. By definition it'll be corrupt.

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  12. Josh Moran will give his little speech about how the tax hike is only "pennies a day." I challenge anyone to add up their UUT costs this year and then say they are convinced by Josh's "pennies" talk. Mine is well over $500. That is a lot of pennies.

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  13. Except Taylor's, 6:42! Most of my shopping at Taylor's isn't taxable. The property taxes are paid by Dirts (even though a percentage is passed on to Taylor's as a tenant).

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  14. John Buchanan has said from the dais that he's pro development of the Howie's site. Taylor's doesn't contribute to the city's tax base. He doesn't care. What he wants is 75+ condos with little shops on the ground floor.

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  15. Anybody think it is a coincidence that this is being done right before the 4th of July weekend? Nice timing, Johnny Bonds.

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  16. A SM business ownerJune 27, 2011 at 7:47 AM

    I can't wait for the UUT to be put on a ballot next year, it WILL go down in flames.
    The current council has rigged the game, and it's obvious they have violated the publics trust.
    You would almost think the G4 would realize what a dumb move it is, or they are so full of themselves, they cannot fathom the stupidity of what they are doing.
    When the time comes, I and many others will actively work to defeat the continuation of the UUT.
    It doesn't even occur to them to trim government expenses.
    A pox on them.

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  17. Two members of the UUT over site committee are on the Fire Department.

    Isn't that a conflict of interest? Proposing a rate increase the would funnel money into your department?

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  18. sneaky bunch of corrupt worms and we all know it.

    so how do we use the sunset clause?
    how do we get rid of nancy's nephew?

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  19. The G4 and friends are no friends of the business community

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  20. The best way to control Buchanan and his bobbleheads is to keep our money out of their hands. No on the UUT extension. Stop the bond sale. Without our money they're just 4 people with some stupid opinions.

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  21. Josh, Vitter, Sandford, Edwards, , Ensign, Arnold, all the same, full of themselves arrogant and narcissistic caring about only themselves. Everything is an object. Bully's and brats.

    Josh would love to hang with Charlie Sheen and brag about it.

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  22. Article in the LA Times today has Arnold blaming Oprah for the breakup of his marriage. Nothing about impregnating the maid, though. Typical California pol.

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  23. The UUT, for financing public safety, Good grief!--the fact that two members on the committee are from the VFD is a big no, no in my book. Some time ago there was a commission member who was married to a city worker and was also a part-time city worker left the commission because the spending that was a part of the commission's decisons (of city funds to accomplish the work that commission was attached to) was seen as infringment on budget for departments the commissioner and spouse were paid under. A free-from-confict decison could not be made. Off the commission. Bye bye. Same for these two UUT committee members. This stinks big time!

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  24. This was a fixed result. Buchanan stacked the deck. He knew if he didn't the tax hike wouldn't happen.

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  25. I just went to Coburn's site and the net says it has been removed. Maybe his server isn't serving?

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  26. Maybe he forgot to pay his bill.

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  27. A relative of a council member, and 2 people who work for an organization directly affected by the UUT are deciding what should happen with the UUT?
    This is going too far.

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  28. The G4 Crime Family doesn't like to take chances.

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  29. I'd like to propose a volunteer commission of smart-about-money residents to come up with a plan to reconfigure city hall completely.

    Let's prioritize: what do we really need, and what is non-essential?
    Get rid of the non-essentials and we can probably lower the UUT back down to 8%, then 6%, then do away with it.

    But it will have to be volunteers, because anyone connected with the Gang of Four is not trustworthy in terms of preserving Sierra Madre.

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  30. I would like to hear the opinions of the two members of the UUT comm. who voted against raising to 12%.

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  31. The Los Angeles Grand Jury is where all correspondences concerning corruption in Sierra Madre need to be sent.

    Complaint Form @ www.lasuperiorcourt/jury/complaint.htm

    Mail to: Los Angeles Grand Jury
    Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justic Center
    210 West Temple Street, Eleventh Floor, Room 11-506
    Los Angeles, CA 90012

    Any Questions: 916 327-5050

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  32. The Sierra Madre city councils of the last couple of decades are steadily losing the powers a city council should have.
    We better take away all of their decision making.

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  33. I know Anna Laws voted against it. Maybe the Tattler should interview her about this.

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  34. Not all of the decision making power, 11:01. They can decide to waive a fee for community groups, or issue a proclamation for this or that day in honor of these and those. The congratulatory awards they can handle. They can do the small administrative tasks.

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  35. Great idea 11:04!
    Ms. Laws is a financial professional with unquestionable integrity.

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  36. One thing is for sure. If the g4 wanted to raise taxes, they would never ask in a straight and honest way. This really does look like the way they do business.

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  37. I went to Cobern's site and it is still down. Maybe he said something he shouldn't have.

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  38. You make that sound ominous, 11:28. Should we be searching the ravines at One Carter?

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  39. When times are hard, citizens are less likely to put up with corruption.
    Ask Blagojevich.

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  40. To 7:47 and 11:07,

    I think that the citizens are the suckers for voting in this costly measure, not the 3 members on the UUT Committee.

    After rereading the post on June 21st at 11:14, I see that we will not be able to vote on this UUT measure until it sunsets in the year 2017.

    Here is the way I read it based on the Measure U Fact Sheet:

    UUT RATES

    Beginning July 1st 2010 till June 30th 2011= 10%
    Beginning July 1st 2011 till June 30th 2012= 12%
    Beginning July 1st 2012 till June 30th 2013= 12%
    Beginning July 1st 2013 till June 30th 2014= 12%
    Beginning July 1st 2014 till June 30th 2015= 10%
    Beginning July 1st 2015 till June 30th 2016= 8%
    Beginning July 1st 2016 till June 30th 2017= 6%

    During the year 2017 the citizens will be able to vote it in again should they so choose.

    If I am in error, please correct me. I am disgusted that the citizens have to pay so much tax for so many years when the economy is horrific.

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  41. Whether times are hard or not, spending 4 million dollars in a month and then demanding more doesn't work, either.

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  42. Interesting. So when the City Council said they were holding the rates to 10% in 2010, it wasn't quite the gift we thought it was ...

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  43. 1:07:

    Well, it was a gift, a 2% gift, as the tax could have been raised to 12% rather than hold at 10%. So 2% saved for me is better than nothing as I voted against the entire Measure.

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  44. I doubt that Measure U would pass now. Back then everyone thought we owed it to the cops. Based on what they became I don't think anyone would go for it.

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  45. I agree with you 1:17.

    I hear that the cops are costing us 50%plus a month of our budget based on salaries and litigation. Pricey!

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  46. I smell Prop 218 all over again. Houdini Levin with trusted City Mgr and Council have configured a process that makes a mockery of the taxing process. Levin's approach with "magician Buchanan" has produced another "what you see is not what you get and what you got was not what you saw. They "g4", City Manager and Attorney have made City Hall a different kind of a place. They should put a new front door on it with a "half moon" carved in it.

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  47. That's the gratitude we got for taking on new taxes to give them a raise.

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  48. Hail Bopp's orbit seems to be a low one. Think his buddy Joe put him up to writing that ridiculous column?

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  49. Levin works for the League of California Cities. She wants for Sierra Madre what the League wants for it. Which is to make some money for their BIA and CAR clients.

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  50. Hail Bopp doesn't need encouragement from anyone to write an opinion piece full of impending doom.Doom is kind of his thing.

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  51. "The sky is falling! The sky is falling!"

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  52. 2:11 Seems a piece of it fell on y0u!

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  53. If the city asked for volunteers willing to pay that 12% rate, how many people do you think would step up?

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  54. they represent the greedy with the tax breaksJune 27, 2011 at 2:57 PM

    And where will they all be when we are paying all of these rates?

    On an island in the pacific sippin' on a beach laughing at us. They will never get caught if we just talk on the Tattler. they know they got us all.

    It is all part of their grand plan.

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  55. Help me get something straight--when did the UUT start at 6%? If it was upped in 2% increments does it say that it 'sunsets' in 2% increments? What would it take for the citizens to put together a referendum to ditch the whole thing all together?

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  56. All we'd need to do is get around 800 signatures and put the UUT question on the April 2012 ballot. But why just get rid of 6%? Let's get rid of all of it.

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  57. 2:59,

    Read Tattler on June 21st at 11:14. These are the stated facts on the UUT. It began on July 1st, 2008 @ 6%. It sunsets in increments of 2% ending in 2017. I don't know how to get out of the tax but I am sure open for suggestions.

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  58. OMG! The CC-1 would be beating the drums of doom telling stories of crime, elders dying in the back of station wagons, and homeowners trying to put out fires with garden hoses. When for only an additional 2% we can continue to afford these precious life saving services... the Rotarians, the Iguanas, the civic clubs would all come out in force tree phoning their members and neighbors... mayhem and violence will be averted for 2%...

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  59. Not today's topic, but it looks like Jerry Brown and the state legislature got the budget done. Can we have a countdown to the end of the CRA? They're about to pull the tubes out of that one.

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  60. If the CRA goes, then for sure they will want to up the UUT. Part of several staff's salaries are tied to the CRA.

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  61. Maybe that is the real reason they'll be weaseling for the extra 2%. Of course, the Gang will never come out and say it.

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  62. Looks like Coburn put another quarter in the slot. His website is back up.

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  63. It seems that if they lose the UUT, instead of cutting back on duplicitous staff, they would rather bankrupt the city, thereby leaving Sierra Madre at the mercy of outside (Dirt) interests.

    Is this what is meant by "Economic Terrorism?"

    But, I suppose if one is a big supporter of the New World Order, it's just "business as usual."

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  64. So is going to be another one of Miss Karen's oopsies?

    If her budget numbers are wrong then she and Elaine should be fired.

    To think that a committee of non finance (except for Anna Laws) found the shortfall is outrageous.

    Why is the City Council the last to know?

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  65. There's no shortfall, 6:09. John Buchanan is trying to amass more treasure to build his library in the absence of CRA money.

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  66. It is all a ruse. Buchanan thinks that a committee of residents would get a better hearing on raising taxes than he would. For John it is a rare - though unintended - moment of transparency.

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  67. Say what you want, but I think Karen is doing the best she can with the situation. She has to kowtow to the whims of Elaine. I think she is the best we've had in a long time. Given the situation, I hope we can hang on to her when we get rid of the lying Elaine.

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  68. Coburn has an analysis of MacGillivray's council report on RHNA that I think needs real attention to. As MaryAnn has said, it makes your eyes cross when trying to understand SCAG material, but we need to pay attention to it, read it, and discuss it. Our Town's future depends on it. For those who say that SB375 has some importance out there, and not for Sierra Madre, are sadly mistaken. Please, Tattlers, read the agenda packet material that MaryAnn has provided and be able to discuss it with your neighbors. Again, Sierra Madre's future depends on it.

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  69. Bill's article is the usual apologia for development. That bit about "not agreeing with everything MaryAnn had to say, but I commend her for bringing this up" is such an old tired song and dance. He sang that tune all the way through the DSP. The sad fact is Coburn, along with his buddies on the City Council, have no problem with the state cramming development down our throats. They all remind me of the story about the small band of Polish sympathizers that welcomed the German Army to Warsaw.

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