Editorial posted 3/31/14 – By Bill Coburn
Who’s telling the truth? Opponents of Measure UUT are telling us that it’s a tax increase. Proponents say it’s not. Who’s right? They both are.
The current rate is 10%, and by extending the UUT, it will remain at 10%. So it’s not an increase. However, if allowed to sunset, in two years the tax rate will be 6%, and if it’s not allowed to it will be 10% in two years. So, there is a future tax increase incorporated into the measure. Technically speaking, both arguments could be interpreted as being accurate, though they are saying opposite things.
But here’s the point, as far as I’m concerned. Whether it’s an increase or not is irrelevant. The point is, in my opinion, that the City needs the revenue that extending the UUT will bring if it wants to have any hope of maintaining anything close to its present level of service to the community.
In 2008, 62% of the City’s voters recognized the need for the City to generate increased revenue by increasing the rate of the User Utility Tax. The City’s need for revenue has not gone away. In fact, since then we lost the Community Redevelopment Agency revenue, and incurred several hundred thousand dollars in expenses due to a once in a hundred years wind storm. We survived them because the City managed to cut $1.3 million dollars from its budget(1). But do we really want to cut another million? To do so will require the reduction and/or elimination of many of the services that make this town the great place to live that it is.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to scare you into thinking we’ll be without fire or police service, public safety will always be a priority for our City Council. But cuts will need to be made to City services. And as Council member John Capoccia reminded us in Part 2 of his Op-ed series featured on this site, “If the current UUT is allowed to sunset, there’s no other meaningful source of revenue to replace what’s lost. We’ll have to do one of the following: Cut 13% across the board, make selective cuts that total $1,000,000 annually, or outsource one or more departments.” If cuts are made across the Board, that means a 13% reduction in both the PD and Fire Department budgets.
If we make selective cuts that leave the PD and the FD alone, and try to make the cuts in the other departments, we’re going to lose a lot of services that we all like, and many that we depend upon, from our Library, Community Services, Public Works and Administrative departments, disproportionate cuts. To cut the Public Works Dept. budget would very likely leave us vulnerable in the event of future windstorms, earthquakes, or fires, so don’t figure on seeing that already cut to the bone budget being cut by much. So – figure we’ll cut most of the Community Services budget and much of the Library budget, which are more “elective” in nature than the Administration budget.
Because the PD and the FD account for about $5 million of the $8 million budget, excluding them from the cuts means we have to make nearly a million dollars in cuts to the departments that account for only $3 million of the budget. So we’re looking at cutting the expenses of the other departments by a third, including the Public Works Department. The other option of course, is to make cuts to the Police Department and the Fire Department. Oh yes, and then there’s the option of outsourcing one or both of these departments. Despite Candidate Rachelle Arizmendi’s assertion at the candidate forum that “we shy away from the discussion just to even take a look at comparisons” of outsourcing the PD, the City actually did just that, just a few years ago. Here’s a link to the 69 page report that was created when we did so, and presented to the City Council on March 9, 2010. The fact that Ms. Aramendi is unaware of it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. It did happen, and the Council (which included Maryann MacGillivray, Kurt Zimmerman and Don Watts, as well as John Buchanan and Joe Mosca at the time) filed the report, apparently not considering outsourcing a viable alternative.
And as to the Fire Dept., well, that is kind of a no-brainer. Most of our firefighters are volunteers, and no other department we might outsource to is going to provide us with firefighters at $0/hr. , and our part time paramedics are among the lowest paid around, so we just aren’t going to possibly save money outsourcing the Fire Dept..
The proponents of Yes on UUT are telling us that the increased cost of extending the UUT for a typical family will be less than $20 a month. We know that there’s a low income exemption, and we know that there’s an oversight committee that makes sure that the money is being spent properly. That oversight committee has yet to tell us that the money is being spent improperly, in fact, if I remember correctly, it recommended to the Council that it should increase the rate to 12% when the Council opted to keep it at 10% a couple years back. That’s right, the Council has chosen not to increase the UUT when it could have, and probably should have (to help build up the City’s reserves). If the UUT is not extended, and we find ourselves in need of additional revenue (which we will), we will have to wait until there’s another election to increase revenue. But if the UUT is extended, and by some odd chance more money is coming in than is needed, I believe we can trust the City Council to act responsibly and either cut the rate or put the extra money into reserves (really never a bad thing).
We vote people onto our City Council to represent our best interests. The current Council, which has far more awareness of City programs, budgets and services than the general populace, has taken the position that the UUT should be extended, 4 members to 1. One of those four Council members, John Capoccia, who opposed the 2012 UUT extension because it was going to automatically increase the rate to 12%, which he opposed, has written an extremely well researched series of articles, as I mentioned earlier. If you really want to educate yourself on Measure UUT and City budget issues, I recommend reading it. (Capoccia Op-Ed Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3). And since we elect the Council members to represent our best interests, maybe we should listen to them when they suggest to us what it is that is in our best interests.
SierraMadreNews.Net endorses a YES vote on Measure UUT.
(1) $900,000 from FY 2011-2012 budget, then an additional $400,000 after the loss of the CRA funds. Source: Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, City of Sierra Madre, for the Fiscal Year ended June 30, 2013, page iii.