Yes on Measure UUT – A Vote For Sierra Madre – Opinion by John Capoccia, Mayor

Photo courtesy of John Capoccia, click to enlarge

Op-Ed published 4/10/16 – Yes on Measure UUT – A Vote For Sierra Madre, by John Capoccia, Mayor

On April 12, Sierra Madreans will vote on Measure UUT.  Measure UUT is asking you to set the Utility Users Tax at 10%, which is what it was from 2009 to 2015, when Sierra Madre enjoyed balanced budgets and growing reserves. Sierra Madre is now facing a $500,000 deficit in the current year, and a $1,000,000 projected deficit next year, because of the step-down of the Utility Users Tax.  These massive budget deficits are not sustainable.  Deep cuts that threaten our town as we know it are imminent without the fiscal security provided by Measure UUT.

Measure UUT gives Sierra Madre a choice – Do you want to continue to provide the means for our town to prosper, or shall there be cuts that could have far-reaching and unpredictable effects?  Your City Council unanimously agrees that if Measure UUT does not pass, our recreational and community service programs will be decimated, library hours will be dramatically reduced, maintenance of city facilities such as parks, roads and sidewalks will be compromised, and the loss of revenue could result in outsourcing one or more departments such as Police, Paramedic or Library.

It is simply not realistic to expect that our town can thrive after losing such a large portion of our General Fund revenue.

Many that are in favor of deep cuts to the City’s budget have a thread of commonality – they are more concerned about themselves and keeping a few extra bucks in their wallets than they are concerned about preserving our historic Village of the Foothills, and they’ll resort to the spread of misinformation and employ underhanded tactics to get you to side with them.  Some of them don’t even live here, or haven’t lived here long enough to understand or appreciate Sierra Madre.  Many are devoted to anti-tax dogma and are willing to sacrifice our beloved Sierra Madre to demonstrate their ideological purity. Sure, there are some upstanding citizens with a legitimate concern that growth of government has gone too far and excessive taxation hinders economic growth, but here in Sierra Madre, your local utility tax pays for the services and programs that Sierra Madreans value.  I urge these folks to take a hard look at the facts, and I know they’ll side with those that love this town and will vote YES on Measure UUT.

Here are some of the weak arguments put forth by those opposed to Measure UUT and why they should be ignored:

  1. If we outsource the Police Department by contracting with LA County Sheriff, we don’t need the UUT.  Yes, we could save perhaps $200,000 per year (for now) by contracting with the Sheriff.  We could reduce police presence and permanently close our facility and save more, but that will result in slower response times and more crime.  So where will we make up the remaining $800,000 deficit without compromising safety?  What happens a few years from now if we realize we made a mistake? – Too bad!  Once our PD is gone, we’ll never get it back.  The UUT is a small price to pay to keep local control of our police, which has faithfully kept Sierra Madre as one of the safest communities in the nation.
  2. Sierra Madre can’t afford the 10% UUT and needs to live within its means. That’s bunkWe can afford it and we have.  The rate was 10% from 2009 to 2015.   If we couldn’t afford it, why did voters overwhelmingly approve Measure U in 2008 at the higher 12% rate?  To cut costs, we’ve contracted out landscape maintenance, our pool, and now all of our recreation programs.  Was that a good idea?  Some think not, that we’ve gone too far with cost-cutting.  Sierra Madre’s per capita income is $81,395, which is higher than Arcadia’s.  Monrovia has a per capita income of only $64,949, yet they have FIVE (yes, 5) voter-approved additional assessments against property, that when added together, cost Monrovians way more than what Sierra Madreans pay on their utility tax, even at the 10% UUT rate!  How is it that Monrovia can “afford” to pay even more than Sierra Madre, especially when Sierra Madreans earn 25% more?   It’s not a question of affordability, it’s a question of whether you value the things that make our town special and whether you’re willing to keep it that way.
  3. When voters approved the 12% UUT rate in 2008, it came with a “promise” that it would sunset. The “no” folks are not very clever.  Witness their recent mailer, where they attempt to mislead you with a partial quote from the 2008 impartial ballot analysis. They crudely omitted a few critical words from the city attorney’s actual text.  Here, I’ve added the critical words back in (in bold face type) so that you can have the full story.  It reads:  Unless approved anew by the voters, the rate will decrease over time…”.  Clearly Measure U was meant to be reconsidered by the voters prior to the sunset, which makes sense if you read the Citizen’s Ad-Hoc Finance Committee’s November 8, 2007 report to the City Council.  The second bullet on the first page states that “The council should consider the political necessity of the sunset clause, although the public safety needs are not expected to subside”.  Obviously, the committee recognized that the revenue needs were ongoing, and the sunset clause was included to reassure voters should conditions change.  Well, the committee was right, the conditions haven’t changed, and we now have a deficit after years of balanced budgets because of the step-down of the UUT.
  4. Public sector pensions are too generous. If we cut the city’s revenue then they won’t have to pay for the pensions.  This is a tea-party favorite, and is patently absurd.  If you look at the experience of Stockton and San Bernardino, both of which filed for bankruptcy, pension obligations were protected, while public safety and other city services suffered.  And of course, this happened after a lot of very expensive litigation.  A city cannot simply walk away from its pension obligations, even in bankruptcy, and especially without first gutting all the other services including public safety, that the city provides for its citizens.
  5. The budget keeps rising, which means that the city hasn’t cut expenses.  The city has cut expenses – this has been well documented, so I’m not going to go over that again.  I will however, draw attention to the reports from the annual UUT Oversight Committee.  The committee’s existence came in to being with Measure U in 2008, and its purpose is to ensure that the incremental revenue raised by Measure U goes to public safety.  The last UUT Oversight Committee Report dated November 10, 2015 states this: “…the UUT Committee has concluded that for the year ended June 30, 2014, the increase in public safety expenditures over the base year of 2008 ($1,920,695) exceeded the increase in UUT revenues over the base year ($1,277,795) in the amount of $642,900…”.  This means that there was $642,900 less from the general fund than what was available to spend on non-public safety in the last fiscal year compared to 2008.  How is this possible?  Because of budget cuts, that’s how! 
  6. Lost UUT revenue will be replaced by the continual rise of property values and the corresponding increase in property tax revenue.  This was the main argument put forth by the authors against measure UUT in 2014, and they were just plain wrong, but they managed to fool enough people to defeat the measure.  And because they were wrong, we now have a deficit and are spending hard-earned reserves.  Now they’re pushing dissolution of the Sierra Madre PD as the budget savior – and guess what?  They’re wrong again!

Your City Council is unanimous in support of Measure UUT, because they know that we cannot keep Sierra Madre the special place that it is without sufficient revenue to support the services and programs that our citizens expect.

Let’s not take for granted what we cherish.  We have safe neighborhoods, fast response from Police, Fire and Paramedics, eclectic neighborhoods, a picturesque, charming downtown, and unspoiled hillsides.  We have low density, effective anti-mansionization laws, no traffic signals, a fantastic library and high property values.  Sierra Madre is a great place to raise a family and is the envy of other communities.  Let’s ensure that future generations feel the same way about this special place.

We all dislike paying taxes.  However, here in Sierra Madre your utility tax dollars provide for your safety and security, terrific library services and community programs.  Your local tax dollars are used efficiently and effectively for your benefit, allowing your city to keep development in check to preserve this special oasis.  I don’t need to remind anyone that Sierra Madre has no Walmarts, K-Marts, strip malls, auto malls, hotels or racetracks to pad the city coffers like our neighbors.  Nor do we have ANY additional property tax assessments like many of our neighbors.  Yes, we have a utility tax and we rely on it to keep Sierra Madre special!

Please, join those that care about Sierra Madre – on April 12 Vote YES on Measure UUT!

7 Comments on "Yes on Measure UUT – A Vote For Sierra Madre – Opinion by John Capoccia, Mayor"

  1. Jeff Dapper | April 23, 2016 at 6:55 am |

    Without scrutinizing everything the City does in detail, using selected quotes and statistics can lead the average reader in any direction the author wishes to take them. In a case like this, maybe it’s best to step back and look at the big picture.

    Assuming all cities are less than perfectly run, how much does it cost to operate the City of Sierra Madre in comparison to other like cities in the area?

    Whether in the form of a utility tax or individual assessments etc., don’t citizens of every city pay some amount of money ( beyond property & sales taxes ) into the coffers of the city’s operating budget? How much per month does the average household in SM pay in comparison to those in other cities?

    Finally, one must factor in that, unlike almost every city in the area, SM is unique in that there are no large, high-volume retailers such as malls, car dealerships, chain restaurants etc. contributing significant sales tax revenue. So logically, wouldn’t the citizens of SM need to pay a little more than people in these other cities in order to maintain the same level of services?

    Seems to make more sense in getting at the truth than arguing the minutia of what the City does or doesn’t do well.

  2. See, John, this is precisely why I accused you of dishonesty. I didn’t do so lightly. I never said those were your words. My point was it is offensive for you to manipulate WHAT THOSE WORDS MEAN to argue a mailer is misleading. Do you truly believe a sunset clause (which made the higher UUT temporary) is rendered irrelevant simply because the voters have the right to renew the rate? Don’t the voters ALWAYS have that right, as long as a proposal is put in front of them? And didn’t the voters ACTUALLY vote not to extend it twice? The notion that “unless approved anew by the voters” changed the game somehow is very misleading. I know you want Measure UUT to pass, and I believe your motives are sincere. I just wish you realized the damage you’ve done with people who respected you before you started engaging in vindictive and dishonest tit-for-tat campaigning on this issue.

  3. Vote No. Don’t support an inefficient government.

  4. Margaret Quigley | April 11, 2016 at 7:47 pm |

    Thanks, John. I appreciate your efforts to help pass this important ballot measure.

  5. Rick De La Mora | April 11, 2016 at 1:49 pm |

    Zen, let’s stick to the basics.

    John’s fundamental claim – that “budget cuts” have reduced “expenditures” – is false. This is confirmed by the City’s own officially adopted and published budgets for 2013 – 2015 and 2015 – 1016.

    The City’s official general fund “expenditures” are as follows:

    FY 12/13: $7.05M
    FY 13/14: $7.65M
    FY 14/15: $8.06M
    FY 15/16: $8.26M
    FT 16/17: $8.52M

    In plain language, the “budget cuts” John cites have resulted in “expenditures” that have increased by nearly $1.5M over the last four years. This, of course, ignores the additional $100k a month the City is spending to have the Sheriff pick up the slack for SMPD during night time hours.

    John also fails to note that according to the City’s own 10/15 analysis savings from going to the sheriff rise from $200k in year one to $500k in year five and $800k in year eight. In fact, the City totals the amount of savings at $3.6M. And for good measure the Sheriff will thrown in 20% more actual patrol hours.

    This is why the Star News, after reviewing the issues in detail, recommended a NO vote. I urge each of you to do the same.

  6. John Capoccia | April 10, 2016 at 7:06 pm |

    Zen, it’s not my language, I’m directly quoting the city attorney from the 2008 sample ballot. That phrase was left off the mailer sent by the “no” folks to make you think there was a promise. There was no such promise.

  7. You have the nerve to use “unless approved anew by the voters” when it was specifically rejected by the voters when they were asked? And how extraordinarily disingenuous can you be in saying that language somehow means the sunset was not intended to decrease? Mr. Mayor, you have proven to be a dishonest leader in so many ways.

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