So maybe folks were sold something other than what they thought they were voting for when the Utility User Tax increase to 12% was originally approved.
As I am certain you will recall, the big impetus behind raising our UUT rates in April of 2008 was to help pay for a Police raise while maintaining the Paramedic set up. It was always supposed to be about public safety, which were then often referred to as being "the essential services." And that apparently is what many chose to believe. Even those curmudgeons who voted against raising the UUT. Such as myself.
But apparently that was not actually the case. While it is true that we the people did vote on Measure U and Measure UA, and approved both by substantial margins, there was nothing in either of them that made the funding of such public safety services mandatory.
With Measure UA, which is where the voter's actual guidance on how this money needed to be spent was stated, being only advisory. And therefore has no real legal power to direct anybody on anything. That little bit of power having been quietly in the hands of the City Council all along.
Here is how the analysis of both of these measures reads on Ballotpedia.org (click here):
Sierra Madre Utility Users Tax, Measures U and UA, April 2008
Two Sierra Madre Utility Users Tax ballot propositions, known as Measure U and Measure UA, were on the April 28, 2008 ballot in Los Angeles County, California, for voters in the City of Sierra Madre.
- Measure U was approved. It proposed a temporary increase in Sierra Madre's UUT up to a total of a 12% tax and extending it to cover a broader range of taxable activities.
- Measure UA was approved. It was an advisory question about what to do with any additional funds raised if Measure U passed.
The ballot language for Measure U was:
"Shall an ordinance be adopted increasing the City's existing Utility Users' Tax by up to 6% in order to maintain general City services such as public safety services, including police and paramedic programs, and to reflect technological advances in communications, expand existing exemptions to low and very low income households, and establish a citizen's oversight committee?"
The ballot language for Measure UA was:
"If Measure 'U', the increase in the Utility Users' Tax, is approved by the voters, should the additional revenue generated by that increase be used to fund public safety services including paramedic programs, police salaries and benefits and additional safety staffing?"
As Ballotpedia.org states, Measure UA was strictly advisory, and therefore little more than a beauty contest.
Of course, it does beg the question of why a UUT Citizen's Oversight Committee was formed. Since the UUT has apparently always been a general tax, and therefore goes into the General Fund for the City's use on just about anything, what exactly was there to ever oversee? Could it be this was only for show?
We have already posted information on The Tattler showing that Sierra Madre has amongst the highest, if not the highest, Utility User Tax rates in the State of California. And that is at our less than maximum voter approved rate of 10%. Which is often claimed as being the product of the City Council's supposed restraint.
But should that rate ever go up to 12% Sierra Madre would then be in territory never before reached in the annals of higher Utility Taxation. Anywhere. Which is really saying quite a lot. Certainly the views from so high a peak must be spectacular.
And that does look like where City Hall is going with this. The language quoted below is from a proposed (and as yet unnamed) new ordinance. I've lifted it from the Staff Report for tomorrow night's meeting. This pretty much lays things out in a way that you probably were not supposed to dwell upon too much.
The first "Whereas" is intended to be the scary part. There always has to be a scary part. The second one is the solution that will save us all.
WHEREAS, essential City services remain in jeopardy because safety services within the City are understaffed (sic), the City's revenue has not kept pace with its expenses, police, fire, paramedics and other employees are paid substantially below their counterparts in comparable jurisdictions, infrastructure is deteriorating without the funds to make necessary improvements and repairs;
WHEREAS, the City desires to increase the tax rate incrementally from 10% (established by the City Council in 2010) to 12% in order to continue to fund general city services, including safety services, street maintenance, library services, and park and recreation services, and to extend the sunset provisions which will decrease the UUT rate.
The assumption that this City is understaffed might not fly with everyone. Crumbling infrastructure, wasn't that what the water rate hike was for?
And that when we'd vote on any new UUT measure next April it would come with a tax increase might be problematic for many as well. It would certainly make this something more than just a matter of extending what we have now.
But who knows? People in this town are capable of convincing themselves of anything. Even those who you might have assumed knew better.