Monday, March 10, 2014

Did City Hall Break The Law When It Mailed Out Its "UUT Fact Sheet" At Taxpayer Expense?

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If you live on the east side of the Sierra Madre Empire chances are pretty good you received a water bill from the City of Sierra Madre late last week. And tucked away inside of that water bill (recently enhanced by the latest round of water rate hikes) was something called "Fact Sheet Utility Users Tax - Measure UUT." This document, which on the surface of it is presented as being strictly informational, also included a very thick slab of downtown pro-tax politics. Below is the offending "UUT Fact Sheet" paragraph in question. Obviously it has raised more than a few questions around the town:

Measure UUT will continue the current amount of revenue the City receives from the Utility Users Tax, and without this continued revenue, the City will not be able to maintain all of the currently provided City services. Service level reductions and changes will need to be made so that the City's General Fund budget can remain "balanced." In total approximately $1 million in reductions will be necessary by July 2016. The actual service reductions and changes will ultimately be decided upon by the City Council. Possible options include contracting a portion, or all Public Safety services to an outside agency; eliminating or significantly reducing other non-Public Safety services; such as Library services, recreational, planning, or senior services.

This is, of course, somebody's rather slanted opinion about April's UUT ballot initiative and its possible effects, and therefore politics. The city hopes you to vote Yes and give them that big 25% utility tax increase they want. This "fact sheet" is in no way analytical or nonpartisan as it doesn't also include any discussion of such budget busters as unfunded pensions or the absurdly expensive health care plans and benefits our City Hall gave away to its managerial staff.

Much of this was done behind closed doors and negotiated without our knowledge, I might add. Personnel matters as they say. Very private, you know. So much for the City Council being the watchdogs of the public purse.

The Howard Jarvis people have an informative article up on the web called "How to Defeat Local Sales Taxes" (link). While we are talking today about utility taxes, the article still gives us some useful and important insights.

I pulled two paragraphs out of the Jarvis article so that we can discuss them. The first one deals with the possible illegality of what City Hall has done here.

Since it is illegal for local officials to use public resources (including public funds) to urge a vote for or against a ballot measure, consultants frequently counsel tax supporters on the best way to wage "information" or "education" campaigns. This often means putting up signs or sending out material stating all the "good things" a sales tax would do, but stopping just short of telling people how to vote. These tactics sometimes occur even before a tax is officially placed on the ballot.

It is clear that since the postage used to mail this so-called "UUT Fact Sheet" came out of public funds, and therefore was paid for by the tax and ratepayers of Sierra Madre, the public resources angle is more than covered. Throw in some envelopes, paper, printing costs, along with the salaries and benefits of the staff factotums that put this political mailing together, and it is fairly obvious that at least the spirit of the law was violated. Probably much more.

The second paragraph we borrowed from the Jarvis people deals with scare tactics.

Tax supporters also like to frequently engage in scare tactics to enhance their chances of passing a tax measure. Tax supporters attempt to "scare" voters into supporting a tax increase. Such scare tactics are frequently observed with tax measures for public safety, transportation, and public health. Taxpayers should neither tolerate nor be intimidated by such scare tactics.

When you look at the kinds of things the unnamed authors of the "UUT Fact Sheet" claim are in jeopardy, it is easy to see that City Hall is attempting to scare people. Public safety (Police, fire, paramedics), the Library, along with senior services, are all fictitiously threatened in that document. All things that the more credulous folks in town might actually believe are endangered, and leaving them stricken with fear. I guess.

Nothing at all is mentioned about the absurdly high California leading health care plans this city slipped to its favored employees, or eliminating some of the currently robust quantity of City Staff positions. Most likely because few people would be scared by that, and might even think it's a great idea.

There is nothing anywhere that shows reducing utility taxes in Sierra Madre means we have to give up the Police Department. Costs might be cut, and a few positions eliminated, but gone? Not likely. A good result of Measure UUT's demise would be that we could negotiate a new deal with the SMPD, one that is more in line with what this small city such as ours can really afford. A town that pays 53% of its General Fund to its police department is running the risk of serious financial jeopardy. It is time that was finally fixed.

Personally I cannot see any justification for City Hall charging the people who actually live here the highest utility taxes in California. Nor can I understand why we should be paying for the most expensive employee health plans in this state, either. None of that makes much sense. Why are we paying more than every other city in the state for these things? Obviously we are in need of change.

Anyway, it is the opinion of quite a few people I know in town that City Hall has broken the law by mailing their politically charged UUT Fact Sheet at public expense. The District Attorney of Los Angeles County is being contacted, as is the Fair Political Practices Commission in Sacramento.

These kinds of deceptive practices have simply got to stop.

(Mod: There is a 2nd post today. See below.)

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

36 comments:

  1. this sure sounds like Elaine had a big hand in this. Don't recall the council ever voting to ok this letter.

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    1. I don't know, it looks like Johnny "Patches" Harabedian to me. He seems to believe he is above the law, and it really shows in this letter.

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    2. Johnny is a big municipal employee guy. Of course he will do anything to pass Measure UUT. If it fails the L.A. County political machine will stop taking his phone calls.

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    3. does anybody remember back when the two utility company lawyers on the Council that they were dabbling in the grey areas of the law but then the city went ahead anyway spreading misinformation and outright lies?

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    4. It is always about money. That is all they care about.

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    5. a Fact Sheet that is basically full of lies?

      typical for our City Manager

      how DARE we question her?

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    6. The more I read about Measure UUT, the more it looks like a confidence job.

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  2. It just doesn't matter who you call and report this injustice to, there all supported by our tax dollars. They want more taxes just as much as the city does. The dissapointing things is how many people buy into what city hall says. I know that anyone who tells me we need more taxes is making a big enough salary that it won't effect them. Almost feels like city hall would like to get rid of all it's senior residents, I'm wrong it doesn't feel that way it is that way. Get rid of the seniors.

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    1. Yes,all those Seniors who are sheltered by Prop 13 need to be priced out of the city and thereby forced to sell their property. It's not personal "My Dears" it's just business".Wow what a bonanza that will be for the vultures!

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  3. Thr Howard Jarvis Tax Assciation is an independent group and receives no government funding.

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  4. Here they go again. All of this is right out of the public employee union playbook. Taxpayer money is spent to basically fund an advertising campaign to tax the taxpayer. Of course to balance the budget you need to pass this UUT Tax or else vital city services will be cut. There is no mention of anything else that can be cut. I guess there is no wasteful spending at city hall, no room to rein in the lavish pension benefits and the recently discussed health benefits that are higher than any other city. Nope. The only thing we can cut are emergency response times, paramedics, police, libraries - the usual scare tactics. The reason the Howard Jarvis organization can successfully predict exactly what is going to happen when a local tax is being proposed is because every city follows the same playbook. There is no deviation. Try to scare the voters into voting for the tax by threatening that some vital city service is going to be cut.

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  5. 6:55 not them of course.

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  6. Cutting emergency services is a threat if ever I heard one. Is that like the big bully saying if you don't give me your money I'm going to hurt you or your family. Is that like the mafia strong arming the shop owner to pay a monthly fee to keep his business safe from fire and robberies. Feels threatening to me.

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    1. The only way to stop this blackmail is to vote NO on Measure UUT.

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    2. It is infuriating to think that four city council members support this.

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    3. It is equally infuriating that they do not tell the truth.

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    4. There is nothing in it for them to TELL the truth! Hello!

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    5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    6. The barn needs to be cleaned out. Too much horse product in the place.

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  7. of course our local sidewalk papers will be all over this questioning the city and asking for an investigation

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    1. John Capoccia still has part 2 and part 3 of his epic novel "UUT" coming up in the Looney Views. I am sure he will be able to clear this up.

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    2. I'll wait for the HBO mini-Series.

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    3. It is going to be a reality show. It will show just after Duck Dynasty.

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    4. I hear America laughing.

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  8. I voted for it in 2008 because the council was promising the sunset clause, and it was just to get us over this temporary problem, and then it turned out that there was a million dollars somewhere that they hadn't counted - I sure won't vote for it again.
    In fact I will vote against any increases until city hall gets serious and starts laying off staff.

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    1. Here is how it works. City Hall needs larger staffing because they are bringing in more money these days. It takes a larger staff to keep track of all of that money. The reason they need the money is to pay the staff. You know, the people who keep track of all that money.

      I hope that helps.

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    2. I figured as much. Enjoy your services!

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    3. 12:03 - They are quality staff.

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    4. The sunset clause is usually meaningless because the bureaucracy will always expand to meet the revenue given to it. So while a sunset clause sounds reasonable, in the real world, the tax never sunsets. Whatever shortfall necessated the UUT tax will continue to remain. If you gave the city another 100 million, they would hire more people, waste more money, increase salaries, benefits and pensions, The 100 million would be used up and they would still need another tax under the threat of cutting emergency services, police, libraries etc... They will propose only those cuts that will most anger, scare or inconvenience the largest number of potential voters in the hope that they would vote for the tax. When will people wake up to this? Every city does the same thing. Every public employee union uses the same playbook.

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  9. Even worse, two paragraphs before that one says, "Without the continuation of the current 10% collected UUT rate, there will be insufficient funding to continue to pay the current salaries of the City's Police Officers and continue to provide all other current city services (such as recreation, senior services, paramedics, and Library services.)"

    The next paragraph is a not-quite-so-veiled threat to not be able to fund the paramedic program.

    I understand there is a big push from the POA for this measure, which has influenced many voters in town. They were responsible for getting the 2008 measure passed.

    The "Fact Sheet" does not mention that a measure to raise the UUT to 12% failed to pass in 2012.

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    1. Your bill for the postage stamps used against your interests is in the mail.

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  10. In case anyone is wondering, The Tattler 30 day hit number just cracked the 70,000 mark. Been a while since we got to that level.

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  11. Anybody get their Gene Goss postcard? He has pretty much created the same list of names we saw on all of those No On Measure V postcards. Nice.

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    1. and you're surprised???
      The No on V on folks still have their network.

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    2. Sure, they tied up their 401K money in crappy downtown properties, and have now spent a significant part of their lives trying to get it back. The true prisoners of Sierra Madre.

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  12. I'm curious 8:03.....who re these people, do you have names, it would help me understand.

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