Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Sample Ballot Statements 2: Rebuttal to the Arguments Against Measure UUT

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"Let me make one thing perfectly clear – Voting NO on Measure 12-1 WILL NOT reduce the current UUT revenue stream, and it WILL NOT jeopardize Public Safety in any way!" - John Capoccia, Feb 9, 2012

What is interesting about the rebuttal statement we are posting here today is that while it's signed by Nancy Walsh and Josh Moran (both of whom are vacating our sinking ship), along with John Capoccia and John Harabedian, I am not certain that any of them actually wrote the final version. My guess is that the finished product, reproduced below, was probably the work of City Manager Elaine Aguilar. The wordiness of the document, along with a couple of instances where the author clearly plays fast and loose with the truth, seems in line with some of our City Manager's other efforts.

This also fits in with a general pattern that we have discussed before. City Staff has become increasingly aggressive on taxation issues, with a majority on our City Council willing to simply rubber stamp most of their recommendations. Our assumption here is that much of the additional money being raised through the tax, fee and rate hikes put into place over the last few years is being used to offset increases in employee salaries, pensions and retirement benefits.

In other words, staff is in effect writing their own ticket, and the current City Council seems willing to enable that. No matter how much it is going to cost the taxpayers, folks who apparently no longer have much in the way of elected representation on taxation matters.

Here is that rebuttal to the argument against Measure UUT:

Measure UUT will maintain and cap the current 10% rate you are paying today. Measure UUT will also lower the current 9% rate for water and sewer to 6% in 2016. Measure UUT is designed to preserve the existing revenue stream so that current levels of service can continue to be provided to Sierra Madre's citizens.

There are a couple of problems here. First, by capping the UUT at "the current 10% rate," Measure UUT will guarantee that Sierra Madreans, when all categories are combined, will continue to pay more in utility taxes than any other city in the State of California. A distinction that serves to underline just how absurdly high our utility taxes really are.

Additionally, claiming by inference that the lowered utility tax rates for both water and sewer will result in our paying less money to City Hall is just plain false. The reason for this percentage adjustment is the impending 61% increase in water rates, plus 100% increase in sewer rates. To both raise these rates this radically, and then also rake in a revenue increase through the applicable utility taxes, was something even this City Council saw as being wrong. Which is why they lowered the utility tax rate for these two categories.

Claiming this as a water and sewer utility tax cut is therefore disingenuous at best.

Property tax revenue will NOT replace the $1,000,000 in lost annual revenue if the UUT sunsets to 6%. On December 11, 2013 the State Board of Equalization declared that the inflation factor used to calculate property taxes for the upcoming year is 0.454%. Normally the maximum 2.0% inflation rate is applied, as was the case for the previous fiscal year. Thus, property tax revenue could be LESS than what was previously forecasted, despite the recent uptick in local property sales. Furthermore, $50,000 does not solve a $1,000,000 revenue shortfall.

This is pure City Hall bunkum. That 0.454% figure is a statewide average calculation that tells us property taxes are going up, just like they do every year. So even if no properties at all were sold in Sierra Madre in 2013, a place where the value of our homes jump at a hearty pace year after year, property taxes are still increasing. It's just that for City Hall it is never enough.

The City's unassigned General Fund Reserves are now at $282,000, not $870,000. In any case, unassigned reserves have been accumulating over years, and are the result of the City's prudent management of its financial resources. Reserves are accumulated and held to cover one-time projects, not to fund day-to-day operations.

The reason why General Fund Reserves are now at $282,000, and not $870,000, is that our free and easy City Council very recently spent $588,000 of it on storm water issues, plus new roofing for City Hall, the Library and the building housing the Fire and Police Departments. It was only at the insistence of Councilmember Koerber that the balance of $282,000 was held back in case the UUT extension fails. Otherwise who knows what items on their long list the UUT4 would have spent it on.

So much for reserves "that have been accumulating over years."

If the UUT is allowed to sunset, Sierra Madre will lose over $1,000,000 per year in revenue for the General Fund, which pays for public safety, public facilities (including maintenance of trees, parks, streets and sidewalks), community services, and library services. It is not possible to maintain the current level of services with such drastic revenue reduction.

Correct me if I am wrong, but wasn't the UUT increase the voters approved in 2008 supposed to be used to help fund safety services such as Police, Fire and Paramedics exclusively? Since when did the use of this revenue get expanded to include things like sidewalks and trees? Was there a ballot initiative somewhere that I slept through?

Here is how 2008's Measure U, which is the currently applicable voter approved ballot initiative, reads (link):

Measure U: "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?"

I think some legal clarification might be in order here.

Tomorrow we will discuss the rebuttal to the arguments favoring Measure UUT.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

32 comments:

  1. what strikes me as so disingenuous about this grument is that, yes, all monies received from the UUT do go into the General Revenue Fund, so therefore they can technically be spent on anything, as their argument noe notes. where the lie comes in is that cuts can therefore be made to ANY department in the city, not just public safety. Why, we could cut the wages and benefits of those day to day staff folks and that will save money. Too bad this present council, and past councils too, have never had the guts to actually do the difficult work necessary to keep this city on an even keel.

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  2. I'm gonna miss Chris Koerber, one of the very few councilmembers to have the know how and courage to do the right thing for this town.

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  3. Written by Manager Aguilar? Nah, not a chance. You are looking at some of the lawyer lingo we residents pay our city attorney for. There's no way anything that hasn't been lawyered up gets put on a ballot.

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    Replies
    1. Speaking of our city atty, here's something from 2012's failed UUT extension that is pretty funny:

      The question on the ballot:
      Measure 12-1: "Shall an Ordinance be adopted amending the City's existing Utility Users' Tax to continue the existing 10% tax, subject to a potential increase of 12% on July 1, 2013, in order to maintain general City services such as public safety services, including paramedic programs, and to reflect technological advances in communications, continue existing exemptions to low and very low income households, establish new sunset dates and continue a citizen's oversight committee?"

      John Crawford of the Sierra Madre Tattler noted that the ballot language says that the existing 10 percent tax is "subject to a potential increase of 12 percent on July 1, 2013." He commented, "In other words, and using the language of Measure 12-1, the UUT is at 10 percent now, so add another 12 percent to that, which would bring it up to a UUT rate of 22 percent!"

      Teresa Highsmith, Sierra Madre's interim city attorney, said that the inaccurately written summary is not problematic, because the full text of the measure is what is legally binding and it makes clear what the actual tax increase would be. She said, "Sierra Madre voters are really highly educated. They're going to read the legislation before they vote on it. Focusing on `of' over `to' is really focusing on form over function."

      I guess that is why they put erasers on pencils. http://ballotpedia.org/City_of_Sierra_Madre_Utility_User_Tax_Increase,_Measure_12-1_(April_2012)

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    2. Don't kid yourself. Joshie, Nancy & Johnny Process are convinced that you voted NO on the UUT becuase you weren't educated enough. Then you will vote yes after more education.

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    3. Do they have education camps?

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    4. Johnny Process - lol - and now we got another "lawyer" running - jeez NO MORE LAWYERS

      lawyers do nothing but argue and talk and that's counter productive to running the city

      they (lawyers) generally think more of themselves than the rest of us do

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    5. Who here believes that John Harabedian will vote against One Carter McMansions when the time comes?

      Anybody?

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  4. Has the latest attempt by your city council given you a case of RED EYE, this comes from doing their job for them twice.
    Having to vote and vote again on a issues that was decided by the residents once, but it seems city hall did like the out come of the vote.
    So a Do Over was called at more expense to the tax payers of Sierra Madre, California - I thought the objective was to save money nor spend more of it?

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    Replies
    1. I think for them do overs are like playing the lottery. You have to be in it to win it.

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    2. the city will keep doing this over and over and over until they get what they want

      how about NO?

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  5. Nice catch, Mod. There are trying to expand where the money can go.

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    Replies
    1. Yes, but is it legal? When the City Council backtracked on abolishing the UUT Oversight Committee, they had to do so because that Committee was established by a vote of the people. Weren't the categories the increased UUT funds could be spent on also established by a binding vote of the people? I didn't see anything about sidewalks in Measure U.

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    2. Maybe that is why they wanted to get rid of the UUT Oversight Committee?

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  6. How many ballots are in, i hope many

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    Replies
    1. Tell all your friends to send them in. It is now or never!

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    2. Sierra Tax Me.

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  7. all I know about this started with lies and complete grandstanding of an imagined emergency by the city manager, public works dude and a handful of Councilmen, two of which were lawyers for utility companies and all took advantage of a street sinkhole as a platform to cause public alarm about a immediate need for infrastructure repair....and to cover up the woeful intentional decisions that wrecked our water bond ratings....and all was done on purpose and with intent that eventually Sierra Madre would cave in and add hundreds of new houses to comply with SCAG goals - all of the actions of previous Councils were ignored or covered up because....

    we keep electing the same type - developer clones

    and excuse me if I ignore whatever Josh and Nancy says for the rest of their lives - so glad to see them go and if now they could take the rest of the "civility" party with them out of politics in SM

    enough is enough

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  8. if this and the last few Councils are hell bent on repealing Measure V and dismantling whatever doesn't benefit the real estate crowd why can't the next Council just repeal the nonense that started with the Doyle - Buchanan - Harabedian era of lousy Councils?

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  9. Who is willing to run as a write-in candidate? we could sure use one!

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    Replies
    1. Neil the Pig. "Why vote for a Goose when you can go whole hog?"

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    2. Where does Neil stand on the UUT?

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    3. When it comes to the UUT, Neil says "Vote NO, don't be a hog!"

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    4. Bill Tice. He's rested, he's willing and by God he's ready.

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  10. "Let me make one thing perfectly clear – Voting NO on Measure 12-1 WILL NOT reduce the current UUT revenue stream, and it WILL NOT jeopardize Public Safety in any way!" - John Capoccia, Feb 9, 2012

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    Replies
    1. Any chance the pod people will ever give us back the real John Capoccia?

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    2. You, Sir, are no Mayor Pro Tem.

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    3. or Jack Kennedy.

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  12. We are now at 904 Prop 218 envelopes at city hall. Y'all better step it up soon. Over 1,000 protest ballots is a big number no doubt. But I kind of figured we wanted to win this.

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  13. Like any ordinary hume it is daunting to sit at the city council bench and cope with the complexities of voting for something you have never had to vote for before. It is only the incumbents that you can pin a previous voting record to and the three are flow.

    Send in your NO "vote" on the water rate raises. Need to reel this in and get our spending under control/prioritized/leveled out!

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