For a city government whose priorities are today almost entirely centered upon increasing their resident money take, done to fund current pension and benefit obligations to the municipal employee organizations it caters to, the need for more cash is paramount. No matter what the excuse, this effort takes up nearly all of their time now. There is not much else going on at City Hall as it has pretty much become a 24/7 effort in fundraising there. So the following news holds some deep significance for them.
Water and Sewer Rates Update - The Sierra Madre City Council held a Public Hearing on January 28, 2014 to receive oral and written testimony on the proposed water and sewer rate increases. At the close of the Public Hearing, all protest ballots were received and the final tabulation of protest ballots was completed. The total number of protest ballots received did not reach the quantity of 1,848 ballots for water rates or 1,591 for sewer rates that would be required under Proposition 218 to halt the rate increase proceedings. The City Council, based on the outcome of the protest vote, adopted Urgency Ordinance 1351-U, setting new water and sewer rates effective March 1, 2014 for the City of Sierra Madre.
The above press release, which was included in the City's "eBlast" last week, left out one very important detail about the protest vote. That being the exact size of it, which was 1,035 ballots. The word we have received here at The Tattler is that this was more than double what City Hall had internally projected the protest vote would be when opting to conduct their version of a Prop 218 "process" for this year's water rate increase effort. They were hoping for no more than 500 protests.
City Hall's previous water rate increase campaign, conducted under the shaky leadership of then Mayor Joe Mosca, threw the process open to the public instead, which resulted in a resident uprising and a near loss for City Hall.
By controlling the Prop 218 process themselves, the City had hoped to take the residents out of the equation as much as possible. The goal being to separate the water rate protest vote from that of April's Measure UUT. Minimizing the water rate protest vote was a definite goal, and in that regard they came up short.
Erasing that 1,035 number from all City Hall press releases (link) and official communications, such as this "eBlast," was not an inadvertent omission or mistake. It was done deliberately. They were not at all happy about that figure, and would prefer that you not think about it too much.
What Prop 218 assumes is that 100% of the eligible voters are in play, and that enough of them could potentially cast enough "No" ballots through the mail to defeat a water rate increase. However, and as it is in many places, we live in a city where often less than 30% of the folks vote in local elections. Something that makes the level of resident participation needed to prevail in a case like this one nearly impossible to achieve.
In a Prop 218 election, it isn't a majority of voters that wins. It is a majority that includes people who haven't voted in a local election in decades. Which is somewhere around 50%. Plus anyone who is not an officially designated ratepayer is weeded out as well, cutting the number even farther. The odds by design are obviously stacked in favor of the taxer, and not the taxed.
All of which makes those 1,035 protest ballots very significant.
If you look at the 2012 four year seat vote results, you can see what the voter turnout would normally be in a City Council election here in Sierra Madre.
John Harabedian - 1364 votes 27.4%
John P. Capoccia - 1327 votes 26.6%
Maryann MacGillivray - 1148 votes 23.0%
Gene Goss - 1100 votes 22.1%
Bill Tice - 44 votes 0.9%
When you consider that the total population of this city is around 11,000, these numbers are obviously woefully small.
Which is why those 1,035 protest ballots have taken on such a significance among the denizens of the two political circles in town. So much so that City Staff won't dare to even mention that number in print.
Remember, just 1 person per rate paying household is allowed to submit a Prop 218 form, that being the individual whose name shows up on the water bill. Most households contain more than one voter, and in April's Measure UUT election everyone will be allowed to vote. Meaning that there is a rather large, and highly motivated, anti-tax base of voters in this town.
If 1,035 households each cast a single vote against the water rate hike, and under the restrictive and somewhat confusing conditions set by Prop 218 no less, they then can hardly be expected to vote for Measure UUT when they go to the polls this April.
We are talking about a potential base of roughly 2,000 motivated voters in Sierra Madre who are not in the mood to vote themselves tax or rate increases right now. Or nearly double what tax candidate Gene Goss received in 2012.
All of which looks like trouble for the Tax Me Twins to me.