Thursday, January 2, 2014

Several Discrepancies Can Be Found In the "Yes On Measure UUT" Sample Ballot Argument

Sierra Madre's 10% UUT rate is among the highest
I have received copies of the arguments for and against what is now being called Measure UUT. Today we are going to talk about the "Yes on Measure UUT" sample ballot argument, which was written and signed by a committee comprised of Mayor Nancy Walsh, Mayor Pro Tem* John Harabedian, and Councilmembers John Capoccia and Josh Moran. Tomorrow we will post and discuss the arguments presented by three Sierra Madre residents opposing Measure UUT. Both of these statements will be included in the official sample ballot election booklet that will be sent out by the City of Sierra Madre for the April 8 City Council election.

Verbiage from the sample ballot argument in favor of Measure UUT follows below, and is in italics. There is a lot that needs to be commented upon, so I have decided it would be best to discuss this statement paragraph by paragraph.

We respectfully ask that our citizens approve Measure UUT which will cap and extend the Utility Users Tax (UUT) at its current 10% rate to preserve city services and keep Sierra Madre a full-service city with its own Police, Fire and Library.

I would have used the phrase "fellow residents" rather than "our citizens." I am not certain that very many of the people living in this town would happily see themselves as being subjects of the City Council.

It should also be pointed out that while it does sound like sacrifices are being made by capping our utility taxes at 10%, that rate is still at the extreme high end of the UUT scale in California. Only one city in this entire state now has an 11% UUT rate, but it taxes fewer categories of utility usage than we do. Meaning that Sierra Madre will still lead the state in total utility tax rates should Measure UUT pass, capped or not.

There is also that rather unfortunate fear mongering the four elected officials who signed this document seem all too eager to engage in. The absurd claim that we might need to outsource a volunteer Fire Department aside, there is little the City of Sierra Madre would not be able to renegotiate to the benefit of all should Measure UUT fail at the polls. The Police Department, which consumes about 53% of our General Fund budget, might find itself having to take a shave, but what person working in the private sector has never had to worry about budget cuts?

Besides, didn't we have a Police Department before Sierra Madre even had utility taxes? We can certainly afford to keep one with a 6% UUT. All it would take is a little hard work and a willingness to achieve financially realistic compromises.

If Measure UUT is not approved, the UUT will sunset to 6% by July 2016, resulting in an annual loss of approximately $1,000,000 to our $8,000,000 General Fund - nearly 13%. It is highly unlikely that property tax, sales tax, or other revenue sources will increase sufficiently to offset this loss. Unlike property tax or sales tax, each dollar paid through the UUT stays in Sierra Madre and funds local, rather than county or state services. Sierra Madre will be faced with reductions that will degrade services, compromise maintenance of facilities, and could result in outsourcing of one or more departments such as Police, Paramedics or Library.

Again, it is sad to think that all these four members of our City Council have to offer us is fear mongering. If the Police Department should ever be outsourced, it would be because of their failure to negotiate a realistic deal with the SMPOA.

I suspect that given the alternative of either losing their jobs or agreeing to a contract that the people of Sierra Madre can actually afford, a satisfactorily negotiated deal with our Police Department could be reached. This is how business gets done in the real world. It is also what happens when we have a City Council that does what it was elected to do.

The UUT comprises approximately 31% of the General Fund, from which Public Safety, Library Services, Public Works and Community Services are funded. We recognize that our citizens demand the most value for their tax dollars and have successfully implemented cost-cutting initiatives since 2010 that have saved nearly $1.3 million, keeping the UUT below the voter-approved rate of 12%. Measure UUT is not an enhancement, it will keep the tax at its current 10% rate, while providing the means to maintain services at the present level.

This is the paragraph where most of the larger discrepancies (a nicer term for it) can be found. First off, the voters approved the possibility of 12% utility taxes way back in 2008. A rate that, had it ever been implemented, would have literally been off the chart. No city in California has ever dared to put a 12% utility tax into effect.

What the voters approved in 2012 was a 6% utility tax. This is the decision of the people that Walsh, Harabedian, Capoccia and Moran are pretending never took place. Measure UUT is actually an attempt to reverse that 2012 vote. A do-over ballot initiative created in hopes of reinstating something that happened somewhere back in the previous decade.

Another thing that needs to be questioned is the claim that City Hall has somehow managed to cut $1.3 million in costs out of its budget over the last two years. As was pointed out here on The Tattler last Friday (link here), the data being supplied by California State Controller John Chiang shows that this might not be the case. While it is true that total salaries dropped by $585,358.00 to $4,824,552.00, benefit and retirement costs soared from $992,452.00 in 2010 to $2,045,825.00 in 2012. This huge increase, much of it paid for by the taxpayers, is more than double that of 2010.

What this means is that total yearly employee costs, rather than having been significantly cut, instead actually increased during this period, going from $6,403,662.00 to $6,870,377.00. And rather than any mythological $1.3 million plus dollars in savings during this two year period as the UUT4 is claiming, it appears that a significant percentage of this money was instead quietly redirected into increasing employee benefit and retirement costs.

Based on what you can see on the State Controller's site (link here), City Hall's often stated demand that our combined utility tax rates must remain at the very highest levels in California is now being driven by the need to fund vastly more expensive employee retirement and benefit costs. The majority of which are still paid for by the taxpayers.

The big question now is do we as taxpayers actually want this? As a small town of less than 11,000 people, can we really afford to pay for a City of Los Angeles style of government?

The choice is to continue the UUT at its current rate, or face difficult budget cuts where one or more of our major departments are outsourced, or where public safety, public works and community services are significantly curtailed. Any of these outcomes would change the nature and character of this safe, self-sustaining village.

City Hall's notion that it is the most vital portion of our community's "nature and character" is an interesting, if somewhat self-indulgent, viewpoint. I would prefer to believe that such qualities come from the people who actually live and pay taxes in this town. And yes, we actually are quite self-sustaining. If we weren't it would be hard to afford to live here.

City Hall, on the other hand, is not at all self-sustaining. It is utterly dependent upon our tax money for its continued existence. And, as it stands now, they could be receiving far more than they actually need to get their job done. The value of what we are receiving in exchange for our generosity might not be where it needs to be either, and by lowering the UUT hit to 6% a lot of the excess baggage we are currently carrying will at last be removed from our backs.

Budget cuts may be difficult, but merely throwing more tax money at our perceived problems is not easy, either. Just ask the residents of our community who struggle to somehow make ends meet every month. Unlike City Hall they do not have the luxury of demanding more money every time their budgets get tight.

Tomorrow I will discuss the sample ballot argument written by three Sierra Madre residents who oppose the passage of Measure UUT. I hope you'll join in.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

56 comments:

  1. City Manager, Elaine Aguilar is not doing a good job. The city managers job should be up for review every 4 years. If the city manager is not doing a good job she / he should be let go and a better person should be found. If you look at the mess Sierra Madre is in it is obvious Manager Aguilar has done a poor job for the City and it's tax payers. We need a manager who is for the people and town not the special interest groups that are breaking our town. At almost $160,000 a year we should be getting a professional job, not this financial mess Aguilar is feeding us.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'd like to print a list of expletives about the Mayor, the Council and City Manager but know it won't get printed so it's implied

      anyway, we are subject to more lies and falsehoods about the UUT - it has nothing to do with services or the library - NOTHING so would the Mayor and those aligned with her please stop LYING to us?


      with the city manager, we need to stop hiring those looking to make a resume for the next gig and trying to use SM as a stepping stone but first stop electing the types we've been electing who hire the City Manager and make sure he or she is pro development

      Delete
  2. Oh, and I'm voting no more taxes, the City Manager should learn how to operate within a budget she is given.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Wish I could say more but some people have to go to work to pay these ridiculous taxes.

    ReplyDelete
  4. "OUR citizens"??

    ReplyDelete
  5. I think that the four city council people who wrote this "yes uut" statement need to ask all of those people whose homes have been robbed just how "safe" our village is.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Yes, 5:42. The phrase "our citizens" goes along with the phrase "our money". Perhaps you live under the mistaken belief that what you earn is yours. No, all monies and persons belong to the government and we are allowed to make use of them only so long as it is convenient for those who know better than us allow it. Trust me, you will be much happier once you "get you mind right" about this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm sorry, but your three minutes are up. Please sit down and shut up.

      Delete
    2. The city finds itself in this predicament because of the weak willed people who have been in charge. They either don't understand money, or they feel that it is more important for people to like them than it is to do the right thing (aka "the difficult thing") with other people's resources. A truth teller with spine is hard to find. Just ask Diogenes.

      Delete
  7. "We respectfully ask that our citizens approve Measure UUT which will cap and extend the Utility Users Tax (UUT) at its current 10% rate to preserve city services and keep Sierra Madre a full-service city with its own Police, Fire and Library."

    2 questions. How do you outsource a volunteer fire department? And isn't a Library a building?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I can do without the library but then again, the UUT has nothing to do with the library

      Delete
  8. These four things are not of equal necessity:
    Public Safety, Library Services, Public Works and Community Services

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What about holiday window painting?

      Delete
    2. Exactly, 9:31.
      Drives me crazy the way non-essential services are mixed up with essential ones, as though a city party is the same thing as a response to a fire.
      Like having $50 and dropping it on some frippery at the mall, instead of buying groceries.

      Delete
    3. The library budget is absurd. There are many frills that could be cut such as newspaper subscriptions, magazine subscriptions, internet subscriptions, let a volunteer or the teacher read to the preschoolers and classes, limit the number of free check outs to 2 and charge for each additional book, stop having programs for teenagers unless 25 teenagers are present for the program, and finally reduce the head librarian's salary. She makes over $90,000. (actually we are paying for two head librarians--one to be there and one who is retired) Same goes for the police.

      Delete
    4. If no staff were involved in the optional activities, like hundreds of hours listed for the Huck Finn stuff, would that mean their time could be freed up for real city services?

      Delete
    5. It would mean they wouldn't have a job. Huck Finn etc justifies their existence.

      Delete
  9. We are NOT self-sustaining. Not any more. We lost our water.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. True. In the old days, that would mean we all have to leave this place, and find somewhere else with water.

      Delete
    2. Damn. I knew I should never have sold the conastoga.

      Delete
  10. We are also about $9 million in the hole on those 2003 water bonds.money so well spent our water turned gold.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Why doesn't city hall cut staff?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. it is part of the job description for City employees to claim that they are overworked and that there is not enough money to do what needs to be done.

      Delete
    2. Wish there were cameras that would capture the employees during their workless day.

      Delete
    3. Don't need cameras. Just drop in any time, unexpected. With only a few exceptions, you will see lazy office everywhere you look.

      Delete
  12. First there was no UUT and the population was much larger.
    Second a 6% UUT was passed by the City the City Council several years ago. It was an illegal tax and had to be put before the voters.
    Third the voters passed what they were told would be a tax that would never go above 6%.
    Fourth the City wanted more money and the current UUT tax was passed by the voters. This tax was to sunset back to 6%. The voters wanted it to sunset back to 6%, not to remain at 10% or 12%. The voters wanted it to be used for PUBLIC SAFETY and nothing else.
    Fifth in 2012 the City put the UUT tax on the ballot and it was voted down by a 2 to 1 vote. The voters wanted it to sunset back to 6%.
    Now Walsh, Moran, Harrabedian, and Cappoccia want to raise the tax again. This time they want to be able to spend the money however they want.
    The voters have spoken 3 times. Let's vote the increase down AGAIN.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great post. Wish everyone in Sierra Madre could read it.

      Delete
    2. I cannot tell you just how disappointed I am in John Capoccia. He ran as an anti-tax fiscal conservative, and that is why I voted for him. I expected this kind of nonsense from Josh, Nancy and Johnny, they're like that. But Capoccia? Who can we trust anymore?

      Delete
    3. Can't we all just get along?

      Delete
    4. Sure. Just as soon as you take your hand out of my pocket.

      Delete
    5. The UUT 4 say you haven't paid your fair share. It's the City's money, you know, not yours.

      Delete
    6. Enjoy your services. Or else.

      Delete
    7. Tax me, Goss!!

      Delete
  13. I need a new car rather badly. Can I tax the city?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Reverse taxation is also known as law suits. Ask the PD, they do it all the time.

      Delete
    2. I think that for the POA it is a second income.

      Delete
    3. Nothing says "thank you" for the SMPD pay raise of 2008 like filing another lawsuit.

      Delete
  14. Remember: Liars figure and Figures Lie - if it comes from Sierra Madre city hall or a city council politician.

    Just when you think you have paid for the best, your rewarded with the worst.

    ReplyDelete
  15. is the city of sierra madre going to donate another $50,000 in cash to try to defeat the extension of the 110 freeway. the extension should be fought with south Pasadena and Pasadena who have money.

    its no wonder why sierra madre is broke... we are donating money for causes which we do not have...

    would the $50,000 been better spent to develop our water well infrastructure?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am in favor of this. The 710 Tunnel, if built, would be devastating for Sierra Madre. Think of all that 710 truck traffic out of the ports being funneled onto the 210. Thousands of diesel trucks everyday. It would be environmental and traffic chaos. Check out the 710 corridor when you have a couple of free hours and see what could be coming our way. Sometimes a city has to do things like this for the good of its people.

      Delete
    2. What is our lobbyist doing about this issue?

      Delete
    3. Our lobbyist works in Washington DC. So far this is mostly a California mess. I think.

      Delete
    4. Our lobbyist is busy cashing our $5k per month checks.

      Delete
    5. We should bounce one. Just for laughs.

      Delete
  16. do you find it acceptable for council member moran to tell residents who speak at city council meetings that they are all ______? how about the city manager telling a water paying customer to _________? are the sierra madre residents suppose to kiss the ground these yoyos walk on? its no wonder that this city is broke.... our city management has failed to listen to its residents...

    ReplyDelete
  17. My question to the moderator.

    Just how will the tunnel completion adversely affect Sierra Madre?

    Sierra Madre is 2 or miles away from the 210 freeway?

    You have the street access East and West and North an South?

    Face it, SCAG has their hands in this one too!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And the air currents, 12:27? Do you think the pollution only travels south?

      Delete
    2. You're kidding, right 12:27? SCAG loves the 710 Tunnel.
      http://www.pasadenastarnews.com/20121114/transportation-official-says-710-tunnel-will-be-hard-to-beat

      Delete
    3. SCAG thinks middle income home owners are the class enemy. Nothing they'd like better than to turn the SGV into one big long polluted slum.

      Delete
    4. Sierra Madre is 2900 feet from the 210 frwy.

      Delete
    5. So you know, 12:27 finds fact and logic threatening.

      Delete
  18. I wonder how the residents are going to feel about Measure UUT after they get their first $300 water bill...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Like this I think. http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_6PdsPkQFSI0/TBhFr6RMS2I/AAAAAAAABS0/zVMy_Bb1Ev0/s1600/sucker.jpg

      Delete
  19. CA Population outflow in 2012: 566,986
    CA Population inflow in 2012: 493,641
    http://vizynary.com/2013/11/18/restless-america-state-to-state-migration-in-2012/
    (hover over California in the outside rim of this chart)
    More folks leaving means fewer to pay for bonds and infrastructure, as well as the erosion of middle class salaries and pensions. Unemployment insurance is ending due to sequester. People can't afford this, period. And the cynical projections for bond investments are going bust. So are the big projects (HSR, Delta Tunnels).
    This city council needs a reality check. Development isn't going to "recover".

    ReplyDelete
  20. RESIDENTS NEED TO PROVIDE CITY HALL WITH THEIR PROTEST DOCUMENTS

    OR

    CITY HALL WILL START ISSUING $300 + WATER BILLS

    ReplyDelete
  21. The Johns are drinking the Kool Aid is that why Capoccia has changed his tune because the water sure has changed it's color. Or, was Capoccia not so well informed and now he is embarrassed? Or, say what ever you have to to get elected? We vote for someone thinking they will try to make good on their promises.

    ReplyDelete

The Tattler is a moderated blog. Annoying delays when posting comments can happen. Thank you for your patience and understanding.