The UUT next time will not be just about maintaining the 10% rate we have now. That is, of course, assuming that Mayor Moran is not foolish enough to push for a 12% rate again. Probably one of the biggest political blunders this town has seen in quite a few years. And don't get me started about the attempt to extend the sunset period to a full five years.
No, what will be at stake is the kind of City government Sierra Madre wants. The so-called full service city that features an in house Police Department, or one that is willing to contract out for something far less expensive.
There is an interesting piece on the OC Watchdog site of the Orange County Register. And while this may very well be an apples to oranges comparison (sorry) because obviously we are far closer to Los Angeles than Yorba Linda, what we can see here is that Sierra Madre is hardly the only city in Southern California grappling with the high costs of maintaining its own police department. The question they ask being, "Could your city police department cost less?" (click here). This is what they have to say:
We've been talking about how governments might pool their resources to save money, so we thought we'd look at what cities pay to provide that thin blue (or khaki?) line of police protection.
Some cities have their own police departments, with their own top brass. Others farm out policing to the Orange County Sheriff's Department. The difference being in what it costs Joe Public can be a bit startling.
> San Juan Capistrano is bigger than Laguna Beach - by about 50 percent - but it pays about half what Laguna pays for policing ($7.2 million, to Laguna's $14 million).
> Mission Viejo is bigger than Newport Beach - by about 12 percent - but it spends just a fraction of what Newport pays for policing ($15.2 million, to Newport's $41.5 million).
> Buena Park is about the same size as Mission Viejo - but spends millions more on policing ($23.6 million, to Mission Viejo's $15.2 million).
The article then goes on to detail what exactly is the cause of the huge disparities in the costs of law enforcement. With the easy conclusion being that more and more cities, faced with the kinds of intractable financial pressure that we also face here, are opting to jettison their traditional police departments for the Sheriff's Department. The latest example being Yorba Linda, which recently made the change and will realize over $1 million in savings per year for having done so.
In Sierra Madre our police department accounts for around 53% of our General Fund revenues per year. And even with our UUT rate at 10%, we are barely eking by. As a matter of fact, for the first time in a few years the City of Sierra Madre could very well be running a deficit. Despite the fact that our UUT rates are just about the highest in the state.
The choices that will be before the voters of Sierra Madre when the UUT questions are put back on the ballot as early as next year will be rather stark. And while the ballot language will in no way resemble what I am about to say here, this is what the real choice will be. Which would you rather have, a 6% Utility User Tax, or the Sierra Madre Police Department? Because obviously without that additional funding the choice to go with the L.A. County Sheriff's Department will have already been made. There really would be no other choice.
Earlier I mentioned that putting the UUT Measures back on the ballot would be the easiest route for the City Council to take. The easiest because, given the City's current financial projections, they might otherwise have to make some of these difficult choices themselves. By voting 'no' on any future UUT Measure you will pretty much have made those decisions for them. In this case the opinions of the voting tax payer being far more consequential.
So which will it be? A 6% UUT rate, or the Sierra Madre Police Department? That is pretty much what the choice is going to be.