|The UUT 3 do not understand your anger|
Eight months after 61% of the residents of Sierra Madre voted against raising Utility User Taxes (UUT) to 12%, Councilmembers Walsh, Harabedian and Moran (heretofore to be known as the UUT 3) indicated at last night's City Council meeting that they intend to do just that. Apparently each believes that they know better than those whose taxes they not only want to raise, but spend in ever greater amounts as well. It would seem that in Sierra Madre any vote by residents against tax increases is no longer respected by City Hall.
The apparent theme for last night was "We have a revenue problem." Something that was repeated over and over again by its assigned and well-rehearsed players. And while many here might feel that the problem is more of the spending variety, none of the UUT 3 did anything to disabuse the skeptics of that notion. With John Harabedian actually going so far as to follow up his call for increased taxes by proposing to give city employees a raise. For a while there it looked as if the UUT 3 might spend the entire tax increase before the meeting was even over.
The way this was set up was both cynical and extremely shoddy. Coached by the City Manager, various committee heads came up to the public podium and spoke about the additional things that they needed for their areas of responsibility. And while they certainly wanted to lay claim to increased amounts of the City's budget for things under the purview of their commissions, were they actually aware that they were being used to help set up the UUT 3's call for an increase in utility taxes?
I spoke to several outraged Commission members on the phone after the meeting, and all of them believed that their particular commission had been set up for that very purpose. One Commission member described the scam to me as follows:
Elaine asked Commissioners to talk about what is important to them. And when we asked to see the numbers on certain things, we were told that we didn't need to see them. We were only supposed to discuss our wish list.
All of which suited the UUT 3's purposes perfectly. Josh Moran kept citing the requests of the testifying commissions as proof that the City needed to solve its "revenue problem." Walsh and Harabedian also joined in that call by citing the Commissioners' wish lists as well.
Were any of these testifying Commissioners in on the joke? I think a couple of them were. But some were not, and the UUT 3's use of these people in that way was both gratuitous and cynical.
One of the reasons the residents of Sierra Madre rejected the call for a 12% UUT rate last April is because many here are suffering in the hard economic times. There are seniors in this town who are living hand to mouth on fixed incomes. Many other households have experienced the loss of one or more jobs during the Great Recession, and they too will notice the increased tax hit on their limited means. And when you consider that the reason this is being done, to provide a comfortable job security for City employees while also guaranteeing them the pleasure of our support for the rest of their lives, it does seem unfair. The apparent belief being that they are entitled to live better than many of those who are paying their way.
As we have said on other occasions, there are only two cities in the entire State of California with UUT rates as high as 10%. Those being Sierra Madre and Bell. However, Sierra Madre taxes four more utility categories than Bell, which therefore makes us the reigning champion. A 12% UUT rate has never existed in California before, with most utility tax charts only going as high as 10%. Which means that at 12% our taxes would literally be "off the chart."
We also need to discuss a possible Brown Act violation. To my eyes it appeared that Walsh, Harabedian and Moran were scripted and prepared to deliver an orchestrated UUT tax increase message. With the floorshow of Commissioners eager to grab a bigger slice of the city's fiscal pie being obviously staged as support for this message. The UUT 3 were all on the exact same page. Something that gave the entire charade an appearance of being a rehearsed show in a venue that legally supports spontaneity alone.
We got our present. The Christmas Utility Tax Hike is now on its way.