|Round and around we go.|
Personally I believe that the pair of utility tax defeats at the ballot box suffered by the widely discredited Buchanan/Moran/Walsh crowd in 2012 and 2014 should have been more than enough. And knowing that a 6% utility tax rate was twice the will of the people, the current City Council should be making the cuts necessary to live within a budget created by that most democratic of processes, elections.
Two of them to be exact.
But the world can be a complex place, and things never seem to be quite that simple. And the mechanism put into place, innocently or not, is the community input (but not outreach) meetings that have been taking place. With the big enchilada of these meetings happening at the firehouse on June 6th.
There a relatively small group of people will be able to overturn the results of two elections and thousands of votes by simply stating that they want all of the services they have now to remain the same. Which will then be interpreted by the all too eager tax faction on the City Council to mean that the people must therefore want a utility tax hike.
Look, none of this is pretty. Cutbacks mean that people will be fired. Lives disrupted. And nobody wants to do that, or at least be perceived as doing that, all by themselves. Rather it must be presented as a community tragedy involving a lot of unnamed people, where nobody but fate is at fault.
The psychology at work here is that while nobody wants to be an uncivil staff firing ax wielding mean person, they also don't want to have to pay any more taxes. So at that June 6th meetings people will likely say they don't want departmental cutbacks. Then, when they go to then polls to vote on raising utility taxes next April, they will say NO.
Because who in their right mind would ever want to go back to paying some of the highest utility taxes in California?
Most people want the events provided to them by Community Services. They also want their Library. But they also want to keep their own Police Department, their own Paramedics and their own Fire Department. Despite the fact that in some cases the services provided by outside agencies would be superior to what the homegrown versions can provide. Plus more than save enough money to rescue the many other things that people want, like the Library.
The entire cost of the Paramedics, which is $700,000, could be saved if we went to Los Angeles County and told them that they need to provide EMS services for us. That is at no cost. They are required to do so by law. Did you know that?
The situation with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department is also intriguing. For $450,000 less we could partner with a massive public safety organization that comes complete with helicopters, SWAT teams, battle tanks (in case the terrorists are holed up in Mother Moos), search and rescue dogs, all of the tough stuff that Sierra Madre never had before. And they would even hire any of our cops that could meet their physical and cognitive requirements.
Sierra Madre could also outsource the Library, save $150,000, and see most of the folks working there now rehired and still in place. Nothing important would change. The city would lose the Library Board of Directors, but somehow I believe the world would go on.
But many in this community apparently believe that in order to maintain Sierra Madre as it has always been, the quaint foothill village, it must have all three of those services as they are now, with no changes.
This is a widely held perception, but it is not reality based. It is also illogical and incredibly expensive. However, should the 60 (or 100 or 200) people who show up at the firehouse on June 6th somehow embrace the outsourcing of these three services, the City of Sierra Madre would save $1.3 million dollars and have more money, and be able to provide more services, than ever before.
But, sad to say, there are a lot of people who just can't seem to handle that level of logic. Something that the more demagogic and cynical political elements in this community will attempt to exploit for all they can get.
Look at it this another way. Let's say the 60 (or 100 or 200) people who show up at the Firehouse on 6/6 proclaim that they would lose their cotton picking minds should the Police Department be outsourced. So then why not cut the SMPD's budget a little? If hiring the Sheriffs would save the city $450,000, then why not cut the SMPD $450,000? Mission accomplished. Police budget met and SMPD rescued from the scrapheap of history.
The SMPD is getting nearly $4 million now, which is a full 40% of the city's General Fund. The purpose of this exercise is to cut the city's budgets, not change the color of anybody's uniforms. They should be more than able to get by on $3.5 million. And in the process save themselves and so many of those other things people value.
This is how ridiculous putting the UUT back on the ballot for a third time gets. In 2012 the voters said NO to a 12% UUTax. In 2014 they said NO to a 10% UUTax. In 2016 they will say NO to an 8% UUTax. Which means that in 2018 a 6% UUTax is sequentially all that is left to do. Or exactly what the people voted for in 2012, 2014 and 2016.
Could things ever get any crazier?
Well, yes they can. Here is what the ballot could look like next April. The Teapac group headed by Earl Richey will have a measure on the ballot that will do away with the UUTax altogether. Zero percent. At the exact same time the Harabedian/Goss/Municipal Union claque will have UUTax increase on the ballot, probably at 8%.
All of which will be pitched to the voters here as the greatest tax war of all times. A true battle for the heart and soul of Sierra Madre.
Think of the hyperbole and wild accusations that will be flying then. You'll need a helmet with a full face plexiglass spit shield just to keep all the stuff they're flinging at each other out of your eyes.
But you do know that there would also be a third option as well, right? If next April you were to vote NO on both the very conservative Teapac measure, and very liberal HG-MU measure, the UUTax would stay at the 6% you voted for two times.
Meaning there really is a middle, and moderate, road. Which I think is where most people will prefer to be on this one.
Fun, right? Personally, I don't have a problem getting rid of the UUTax altogether, I just don't think it will ever pass. I also believe the tax increase crowd will try to portray that 0% UUT measure as something extreme and dangerous in order to make their initiative more appealing. Politically that could work. Better to just save the 6% UUTax the voters approved twice.
Councilmembers Arizmendi and Delmar, along with Mayor Capoccia, were willing to go forward with the cuts to make a 6% UUTax work, but apparently wanted to wait and hear what those who show up to the June 6th meeting have to say first.
Councilmember Harabedian, who favors a UUT initiative without any input from the residents, is also is willing to go forward with the cuts, but with the proviso that everything return to where it is now should the tax increase go through. My take is he hopes these cutbacks will make people more willing to increase their utility taxes at the polls. As always, Johnny Politics is working the odds.
Gene Goss? Our one dinosaur 2012 John Buchanan throwback. No cuts, tax increase initiatives now. Including "alternative ideas" such as a parcel tax.
Where we are at.