By Mary O’KEEFE
A Grande Caramel Macchiato and a breakfast sandwich at Starbucks, a small value meal at McDonald’s or about two-and-a-half gallons of gas. That is basically what Measure N comes down to.
Measure N is the initiative to repeal the UUT (Utility Users Tax) in Glendale on the June 7 ballot. According to a presentation made by the City of Glendale, the amount of money the UUT brings in is about 15.2% of the city’s revenue. The annual amount has been estimated at $17.5 million, which comes to about $7 per person. This is the city’s third largest revenue stream.
The petition to repeal the UUT received more than 2,000 signatures, well above the required mark of 1,366 signatures for the measure to get on the ballot. The text of the proposed measure reads, “Whereas, the people of the city of Glendale find and declare that federal, state and local taxation has reached confiscatory levels; that unrestrained spending and regulation at all levels of government are excessive, improvident, contrary to our rights as a free people and thereby destructive of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
Then on April 6, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert O’Brien issued a writ of mandate striking out language in the ballot argument in favor of Measure N (in favor means the measure would wipe out the UUT).
In a challenge brought by Glendale City Clerk Ardy Kassakhian, the city’s elections official, the court agreed with the city’s attorneys that the ballot argument in favor of Measure N contained false and misleading statements. In particular, the court agreed with the city’s attorneys that the contention in the ballot argument that Measure N will require only a 2% budget cut was false and misleading. The city demonstrated that the elimination of the UUT will result in a 9.5% annual reduction in the city’s general fund budget, which is used to pay for general city services, such as police, fire, 9-1-1 emergency response, parks and libraries.
There have been several community meetings and city council meetings that have dealt with the subject of Measure N. At an April meeting of the Glendale Homeowners Coordinating Council, Bill Taliaferro argued in favor of repealing the UUT.
He said he had always been politically aware but had never been as involved as he is now with Measure N; however, recently he was at a function where a Glendale councilmember talked about spending $10 million on library improvements. At the time Taliaferro thought the city did not have the money.
“I feel if you don’t have the money why spend it,” he said.
He was then told some of the funds came from a federal grant, but that didn’t make it all right, according to Taliaferro.
“So we are taking tax dollars from some miner in Virginia to pay for our library shelves. That doesn’t seem right,” he said. “We need to be responsible and tighten our belt.”
He had also mentioned the salaries paid to city employees, specifically police and fire. According to Transparent California, two police officers are listed as making over $150,000. The proponents of Measure N believe passing the measure will help bring down those salaries they feel are too high. But according to Glendale City Manager Scott Ochoa, Measure N will not affect those salaries.
During the discussions of what would happen if the UUT were repealed, the city has been accused of employing scare tactics. However, the City’s position is it is looking at its budget, planning ahead and, if that appears to be “scary,” then that is a reality not of its making.
As with anyone who loses a portion of their income, the bills still come and cuts will need to be made. But the city contracts will need to be honored despite the lack of funding if the UUT is repealed.
So the police and fire departments, libraries and parks will be on the chopping block according to those who want to defeat Measure N, as they believe passage of Measure N and the repeal of the UUT will force major cuts in city services.
Ochoa said that Glendale is fiscally responsible but must be competitive in salaries to attract candidates in emergency response fields. Proponents have pointed out that the police department contract is up for negotiations.
“So what are we going to cut…[the] salaries by 10%, especially when [other cities] are in the market?” Ochoa asked. “[Police and fire] candidates will jump ship and go to Pasadena and Burbank that just gave raises.”
Glendale police along with other agencies have continued to struggle to fill positions with qualified candidates. Like the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Dept., the departments will get one or two applicants out of a thousand who are qualified to go through the academy.
Ochoa said Glendale pays an average salary for a city of its size. If the UUT tax is repealed, the city leaders will have to choose what to close and what agencies to pull back on. The possibilities include not filling jobs that have been vacated in police and fire, leaving a possibility of 14 vacancies in the fire department. They would also “brown out” stations during specific seasons.
“Like in the [far north Glendale] area we would brown out the station at New York Avenue, except for brush season,” Ochoa said.
The reason they would close the far north station is it has a lower use than others in Glendale.
The city would also close down all libraries except Brand and Central branches and make deep cuts to the parks department, according to Ochoa.
Ochoa said the measure was not brought by a majority of residents who were upset or negative about the city services. In fact, the city of Glendale ranked in the top 10 of safest cities with a population of 100,000 to 500,000 in the Unites States. The results of the 2016 Citizen Satisfaction Survey found that 93% of community members are either satisfied or very satisfied with city services, with the top four rated departments of fire at 93%, police at 90%, community services and parks at 87% and library arts and culture at 85%.
“Those [rankings] are almost unheard of,” Ochoa said.
The push to repeal the UUT in Glendale was brought by two local men; however, there is a push to repeal the tax in many other cities including Arcadia. Sierra Madre voters approved to increase the UUT to 10%; it was to sunset in July 2016. Arcadia voters rejected the measure to repeal the UUT.
According to California Tax Limitation Committee, the TeaPAC behind the statewide tax reduction and UUT measures, they want to stop increases, “while forcing local government to defend existing taxes.”
Whether the UTT is repealed or left in place, proponents have gotten voters talking about spending and renewed interest in budgetary concerns.