By Jason KUROSU
In June, Glendale voters will decide whether to repeal the city’s Utility Users Tax as a recent petition required the Glendale City Council to place the initiative on an upcoming ballot.
The petition was circulated by local residents who want to rein in city spending and taxation, while city officials say repealing the UUT would lead to a drastic reduction in the quality of city services and programs.
The UUT taxes the gross sale of electricity (7 %), gas (7%), water (7%) and communications (6.5%) and was approved by voters in 2009. Voters will have an opportunity to reverse that decision this summer, as the petition’s 1,532 signatures sealed the initiative’s placement on a future ballot.
City Manager Scott Ochoa said Glendale stands to lose about $17 million from its General Fund should the tax be repealed. According to city officials, the UUT comprises 15.2% of General Fund resources and is Glendale’s third highest source of revenue, behind property and sales taxes.
Ochoa called the potential loss of such revenues “crippling.”
The city’s parks and community services were identified as the primary programs that would be cut to offset the loss of UUT revenues. A city staff report outlined three scenarios for cutting costs. One involved a 15.78% reduction of General Fund departments across the board. The second cut funding to police, fire, parks and libraries. The final scenario only cuts funds to police and fire, as they comprise the two largest general fund expenses.
Ochoa said the cuts would reduce the effectiveness of emergency services and force the city to rely more heavily on county emergency services.
“You’re going to have to accept a lower level of service. We cannot assure you that paramedics will make it to your house in less than five minutes. Maybe that doesn’t mean anything to you, until it does, until it’s you or your loved ones having chest pains,” said Ochoa.
City council members were generally in favor of putting the measure before voters as soon as possible and some council members did not conceal their opposition to repealing the tax.
Council member Vartan Gharpetian said that he receives numerous calls from residents asking for parks projects that would lose funding should the UUT be repealed.
“They are in dire need of more soccer fields, more gyms, more community centers, open space, green space,” said Gharpetian. “And yet we’re trying to eliminate the funds that support what the community’s really asking for. I don’t really see the logic behind it.”
Mayor Ara Najarian was confident that the majority of Glendale voters would vote against the initiative.
“I have faith in the voters of Glendale,” Najarian said. “Once they hear about the devastating impacts this UUT tax elimination will cause, I have faith that they will do the right thing.”
Glendale resident William Taliaferro, one of the petition’s backers, says residents “are taxed enough.”
Though he did not wish to specify what city programs could be cut to reduce spending, Taliaferro did say that the salaries and pensions of city employees were too high.
During the meeting, Ochoa continually emphasized that the measure met the requirements for ballot placement because of low voter turnout in the last gubernatorial election. State law dictates that a petition with signatures equaling 5% of the total voter turnout of the most recent gubernatorial election must be submitted to the voters.
“Fifteen hundred people said out of a town of 200,000 that this was important enough to them to put on the ballot. So be it.”
Taliaferro said that support for repealing the tax is greater than Ochoa implied.
“If you want to learn the mood of the community regarding taxes, go door-to-door with a petition like we did. I walked through the voting precincts with a list of registered voters and I would say most people, 90%, signed our petition,” said Taliaferro.
But Ochoa said that the petitioners did not appreciate the impacts that repealing the tax would have on city services.
“It’s like asking somebody who’s shackled down ‘What part of you would you like to cut off first?’” said Ochoa. “And understand that none of it is going to be painless and in fact, all of it is going to be crippling. ‘How do you want to be crippled?’ is the decision you have to make if this were to pass, because the petitioners that have brought it forward really don’t care, or at least they didn’t think about that when they sought to bring the petition forward.”
The Utility Users Tax Repeal Initiative Measure will be voted on during a June 7 Special Election.