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Herald - Seaside group wants utility tax axed

Money helps pay for public safety


LAITH AGHA
Herald Staff Writer
Article Last Updated: 10/23/2008 01:38:01 AM PDT


A Seaside group is trying to repeal a utility tax that city officials say plays a significant role in providing city services. Voters will decide Nov. 4 whether to keep the 6 percent tax applied to utility bills when they vote on Measure E.

The Seaside Taxpayers Association is pushing the measure, deeming the utility tax an invalid drain on residents' bank accounts. But the tax, which has been in place about 25 years, has been confirmed by residents multiple times, said Assistant City Manager Jill Anderson.

The tax makes up 11 percent of the city's general fund, which City Hall uses to cover the cost of providing services, such as fire and police protection and public works projects, Anderson said.
"There's no way you can cut $2.7 million out of the budget and not have it impact public services," Anderson said. "Every service of the city would have to be under scrutiny, particularly in light of the greater economic environment we are all operating in."

Responding to concerns about how the loss of tax revenue would affect city services, Lawrence Samuels, vice chairman of the taxpayers association, said the city would have to adjust like individuals do during tough economic times.

"People don't go out to dinner as much or don't go to the movies," Samuels said. "The city should be able to tighten the belt."

Seaside residents voted on two utility tax measures in 2002. One asked voters whether to keep the tax at 6percent or to reduce it to 3percent. The other measure asked voters whether the utility tax should be allocated solely to public safety services, such as the police and fire departments. Both measures failed to pass.

"It can be implied that when voters did not want to reduce it, that meant they wanted to keep it at 6 percent," Anderson said.

Samuels argues the tax is invalid because the 2002 vote did not receive the two-thirds majority needed to approve a city tax.

Anderson said this is a "clear misinterpretation" of the vote, because a two-thirds majority only applied to the measure that asked whether the tax should gather funds strictly for public safety services. That measure did not receive two-thirds of the vote, so utility tax revenue continues to be for the city's general fund.

Mayor Ralph Rubio said the group pushing for the repeal is "fundamentally opposed to any form of taxes."

Samuels owns three properties in Seaside but lives in Carmel Valley.

"No matter how you slice it, you take out 11 percent, you're going to affect every service in the city," Rubio said. Retaining the utility tax "is about maintaining city services in a time when the state is trying to take revenues from cities, sales are down, the economy is a mess."
Laith Agha can be reached at 646-4358 or lagha@montereyherald.com.





Last Updated: Oct 23, 08

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