Measure U will raise taxes to fund police pay increases among other services.
In an effort to raise revenue for general city services like paramedics, police and the fire department, Measure U will be on the April ballot to propose raising the utility tax by two percent each year for the next three years, increasing it to the 12 percent limit, as opposed to the existing six percent rate.
Sierra Madre police originally supported Measure P, which is still on the ballot and would increase their pay and benefits, but they are now favoring Measure U instead, said city manager Elaine Aguilar.
“Without Measure U the city does not have a way to fund the increase in pay for the police officers,” said Aguilar.
Measure U would also increase the scope of the utility tax, meaning that video, water, sewer/wastewater and solid wastewater disposal services would be taxed in addition to the existing taxed utilities, but Internet access is federally prohibited from being taxed.
“The continuation of paramedic service is not important; it is vital,” said ad-hoc finance committee member and emergency medical technician Mike Comer. “We didn’t have the tools to be able to save a life in certain situations. There is nothing more frustrating than knowing we’re putting a patient that just had a cardiac arrest in the ambulance and really our only tool is to get them to the hospital as fast as we can.”
Each year of the tax increase the city council will review if 12 percent tax is needed and if not then the tax may not be raised to its full amount.
Also, unless voters decide to keep the utility tax higher than six percent, Measure U will reduce the tax by two percent for three years beginning in 2014 so that the tax would return to its current rate of six percent in 2016.
An ad-hoc finance committee was formed to recommend ways to fund public safety needs in the future and they estimated that the six percent utility tax increase would raise $1.5 million in revenue, though that figure does not take into consideration the exemption of low-income families from paying the tax, said Aguilar.
The federal definition of low-income will apply. For example, the income for a family of two cannot exceed $41,450 and a family of four cannot exceed $59,200.
Aguilar estimated that with the low-income exemptions, the six percent increase will generate $1.3 million.
“It costs us less than a dollar a day to do this,” said Sierra Madre fire department battalion chief Bob Burnett. “Don’t go to Starbucks once a week.”
“When we’re talking about a minimum tax that in most estimates is $200 a household per year for us to be able to continue the type of police coverage and paramedic service that we have, I don’t think there’s a lot of people against that,” said Comer. “Everyone uses emergency services.”
Recently, similar measures have passed in other cities.
Pasadena passed Measure D, which did not raise the Utility Users Tax but updated the definition of telecommunications in the city’s already existing UUT ordinance after the IRS stopped the application of the Federal Excise Tax to most telephone communication services and some phone carriers filed lawsuits.
Prop S passed nearly two to one in Los Angeles and reduced the tax rate on communications users from 10 percent to nine percent while applying the tax equally to all communications technologies, including new and emerging technologies.
Sierra Madre largely supports the measure and it was difficult to find anyone opposed. As of March 4th, a ballot argument against Measure U had not been submitted.
No specific allocations for paramedics, police and fire department are stated in Measure U, but if it passes a citizens’ oversight committee will be established to review and provide recommendations as to how the new revenue is spent. Companion Measure UA gives citizens more input about how the revenue is spent.