Here is how Noah Green attempts to make you feel all helpless and inadequate on the sky high utility tax issue. Unfortunately, much of Green's pitch appears to be based on a reworking of the discredited Josh Moran "latte' defense."
The UUT currently tacks an extra 10% to your electric, garbage, cable, and phone bills. However, the UUT is currently due to decline to 8% on July 1, 2015. As a taxpayer, that sounds like a little bit of good news. For example, I will have to pay about $9 less in taxes every month for an annual savings of $108 if the UUT falls to 8%.
For the City has a whole however, this minor relief in my tax burden will translate into severe consequences in the form of a 20% reduction in 31% of the City’s revenue stream, or about 6% of the total City revenues. Given that we are currently running only a 4% surplus, allowing the UUT to decline to 8% will cause the City to once again run a budget deficit, assuming our expenses and other revenues remain about the same.
That is of course unless we reduce our City budget by about 2%, or $395,403. So what should we cut? The following is a summary of each City department’s budget for 2012-2013:
Public Works - $7,375,744
General Services - $5,669,058
Public Safety - $5,070,642
Cultural & Leisure - $1,654,695
Total - $19,770,13
The alternative to carving $395,403 out of this budget is to allow the UUT to remain at 10%. The choice is ours.
Please let me know how you feel about this issue. Given that many people do not want to pay higher taxes, but no one can agree on what to cut, I believe the time is ripe for we as a City to have a discussion about what, if anything, we should cut.
Certain aspects of this appeal are, for the lack of a better term, annoying. Noah lays out some numbers, coupled with nebulous terminology (Cultural & Leisure?), but in no way itemizes what expenses comprise these costs. I really would hate to think that Sierra Madre spends a big chunk of that $1,654,695 on leisure activities since I personally get so little of that. Outside of doing this blog, of course. And at no expense to the taxpayer.
But since there is no real information here, thereby making Noah's bold call for a City-wide debate on the issue seem somewhat self-serving, there has to be another agenda at work. I suspect that is to make you, the oh-so confused resident, feel that the issues here are just too large and confusing for you to deal with. And rather than risk causing harm to such important City of Sierra Madre initiatives as its $1.6 million dollar pursuit of both culture and leisure, you'll just throw your hands up in the air and put all of your trust in a lawyer that has only lived in town for two years.
Voting for politically ambitious young lawyers who haven't lived here much longer than the lifespan of a kitchen gnat has worked out so very well for us in the past.
Of course, there are many things that could stand a bit of a financial shave here in town, and properly itemized it would be quite easy to see exactly what these might be. However, that doesn't appear to be where Mr. Green really wants to take this discussion, and he supplies no such information on his website. He just wants you to continue taxing yourself at some of the highest rates in California because any attempts to think otherwise could hurt your pretty little head.
The most obvious place to start would be benefits and pensions for city employees. Somewhere along the line the notion that our little town of less than 11,000 souls should fund pensions and benefits like cities much larger than ours mysteriously took hold. The City of Los Angeles being the most obvious example of this misplaced urge, though Pasadena might also be a good place to look as well.
Since both of these mighty metropolises are now undergoing some extreme fiscal pain, with pension debt and its related ills nearly killing them financially, you'd assume that we might want to rethink this.
Of course, funding a Los Angeles style pension system in a town like ours would take some real financial wherewithal, which is where our state leading combined double digit utility taxes come in. The notion that if you go to work for the City of Sierra Madre all of your earthly needs will be taken care of at taxpayer expense for the rest of your life, while comforting for the beneficiaries, might not be what we can afford to do in a town as small as this one. At least without taxing ourselves half to death.
There is a website that just came on line in our once Golden State that tracks pension demands in just about every city around. The site received a glowing write up on the Fox & Hounds website, and I thought I'd share a little of that good news here (link).
New Transparency Website Reveals True Costs of Payroll and Pensions for California’s Public Employees - In light of the strong public policy supporting transparency in government, an individual’s expectation of privacy in a salary earned in public employment is significantly less than the privacy expectation regarding income earned in the private sector. – Excerpt from California Supreme Court Ruling, 8-27-2007, IFPTE v. Superior Court
This week the California Public Policy Center launched what is the largest online payroll and pension database, searchable by name, downloadable via spreadsheet, ever compiled for active and retired employees of California’s state and local governments. Do you want to see just how much California’s public servants are costing taxpayers? Go to www.TransparentCalifornia.com and have a look.
The database, created in partnership with the Nevada Policy Research Institute, has been nearly a year in the making and provides information not available anywhere else. For example, the database includes CalPERS pension records, including not only the participant’s name, pension, and other retirement benefits, but also their year of retirement and years of service.
Having this information is necessary to understand just how generous public sector pensions are, because the “average service life” of public servants in California is only around 20 years. And if you work a normal full-length career? Buried on page 169 of CalPERS FYE 6-30-2013 Annual Report is the answer – after 30+ years the average pension is $60,312 per year.
Sounds interesting, right? Certainly some of the information we can use in our city-wide debate on how to cut costs and reduce our 10% utility taxes should be found on this site.
If you click here the link will take you to the relevant portion of the Transparent California.com website. You will note there that salaries and benefits have been dutifully reported for most California cities.
However, and sadly, if you scroll down to Sierra Madre you will be confronted with the following:
Sierra Madre ………………..………….…………………..... Refusing to produce
Hmm. That is not promising. If you do click on the Sierra Madre page anyway, this is what you will find:
Contact Sierra Madre - Please help us procure these records for Transparent California by respectfully requesting that government officials fully comply with California's Public Records Law and provide Transparent California with the requested records in an Excel-compatible format.
Every citizen has a right to know how government is spending his or her money, and you have a right to respectfully request that this government agency abide by the law and allow you to see how your money is being spent.
Feel free to use the following contact information for Sierra Madre. You can also click here to generate and send a request email directly.
Name: Elaine Aguilar
Title: City Manager
Should you wish to send the email to Elaine that is discussed above, here is the language the site provides:
As a concerned California resident, I am writing to let you know that you should obey California's public records law, California's Govt. Code §§ 6250–6270, and fulfill the public records request you have previously received from Transparent California. Please email the records to email@example.com.
We all know how City Hall can be with PRAs.
Since cities such as Pasadena, Monrovia and Arcadia have filed their salary and benefit information with TransparentCalifornia, why is it that Sierra Madre is "refusing to produce" its numbers?
Could it have something to do with our upcoming vote this April on extending our state leading double digit utility tax rates? And some people downtown just don't want you to know what is really going on?