|What will Teresa Highsmith do?|
I know The Tattler has been kind of wishy washy on this topic. We believe that City Hall is pretty damn lucky to still have that 6% UUT rate, and should be doing all it can to hang on to it. Advocating for the doubling of utility tax rates to 12% like such eminently befuddled folks like Gene Goss might not be as politically wise a move as they now believe. I mean, how badly do you want to piss off the voters of Sierra Madre? Next April isn't too far away, and people do have long memories for slights that involve the taking of even more of their money.
Only 149 valid signatures were required to qualify their effort as a ballot measure. The UUT dumpers took no chances and turned in 250 signatures. Which is a fairly large sampling of people. When asked to sign this petition to do away with utility taxes, not very many people refused. I am not sure City Hall gets that yet.
After all, very few of those 250 petition signing folks showed up at the Firehouse last month.
There were several comments posted on The Tattler yesterday about ending utility tax collection here. Obviously, and to use L.A. gang war argot, "It's on." I get the feeling that not only are these guys very serious about UUT busting, they plan to fight very hard for their ballot initiative as well. It could be quite an interesting time in old Sierra Madre.
Here is one of those comments:
Sounds real to me.
Here is a summary of that effort to repeal utility taxes in Sierra Madre, taken from the UUT repeal petition that was being passed around up until just this last weekend.
All of that said, there is a catch. I call it the Teresa Highsmith Factor. As you know, Teresa has sold her lawyerly heart to many different cities, and does for them what she does here. For better or worse. And it is in her role as the City Attorney of South Pasadena that Teresa constructed some rather large legal barriers to a similar resident driven utility tax banishing move.
Here is how we described that event on February 5th (link):
That was my prediction last February, and I am sticking to it. When Sierra Madre's City Council gets around to dealing with this petition for a measure to do away with utility taxes, they'll simply receive and file the matter. In other words, they will do nothing. All on the advice of City Attorney Highsmith.
That is pure legal bluff of course, but one that will be very expensive to call. That is, unless these Sierra Madre tax fighters have a pro bono lawyer willing to fight this abrogation of their democratic rights on legal principle.
This move would also be something that could end up costing the taxpayers here a whole lot in legal fees. When it comes to preserving tax income for itself, no price is ever too high for City Hall to pay.
Speaking of UUT repeals
These initiatives are happening all over California these days. Here is a newspaper account from The Press Enterprise, which is straight out of Riverside County.
Nine Riverside County cities charge an extra percentage to utility customers and use the money to pay for basic city services. But residents in one of those cities – Riverside – are launching a campaign to get rid of that tax.
Residents and businesses already pay various state, federal and other fees and charges on their bills, so the utility user tax feels like “a sales tax on top of a sales tax,” said Ben Clymer Jr., who owns the Riverside location of Ben Clymer’s The Body Shop, an auto repair chain his parents founded. Clymer and other residents, backed by a Tea Party-funded taxpayer advocacy group, want to get a measure on the Riverside ballot that would repeal the city’s 6.5 percent utility user tax.
Riverside’s utility tax dates to 1970, before a public vote was required on new taxes. More recently, the charges have gotten mixed responses in other Inland cities.
San Jacinto voters have twice rejected a utility tax, proposed at 6.5 percent in November and then 5 percent this May. In Canyon Lake, a 3.95 percent tax was narrowly approved last fall. In cities that have utility user taxes, which in 2013 included 154 cities around the state, “It’s a very significant portion of general-purpose revenue,” said Michael Coleman, a municipal finance expert who advises the League of California Cities.
The tax can be charged on electric, gas, water, sewer, phone, cable or satellite TV, and trash collection services, but Coleman said gas, electric and phone service taxes are most common.
Both seem to be on a Blues Brothers style "Mission From God" to raise taxes here in Sierra Madre. All so "The Platinum Dozen" on the SMPD can continue pulling down compensation numbers that run as high as $180,000 per year. Or twice what the average family in this town makes.
Will they counter with a ballot measure next April to raise utility tax rates here to 12%, which would be by far the highest of its kind in the State of California?
Stay tuned for more on the coming utility tax wars. This could get kinda wild.