De­bate con­tin­ues over Po­lice, Fire fund­ing

Antelope Valley Press (Sunday) - - Front Page - By AL­LI­SON GATLIN Val­ley Press Staff Writer

CAL­I­FOR­NIA CITY — More than a year af­ter vot­ers over­whelm­ingly passed a spe­cial par­cel tax to fund the Po­lice and Fire de­part­ments, the City Coun­cil con­tin­ues to de­bate the ap­pro­pri­ate tax rate, de­spite the fact that col­lec­tions are al­ready set for the cur­rent tax year.

Dur­ing the Sept. 10 meet­ing, the Coun­cil agreed in prin­ci­ple to pro­ceed as if a lower rate was in ef­fect, and sav­ing the ad­di­tional rev­enues col­lected on the tax rolls by Kern County in a re­serve ac­count.

The vir­tual re­duc­tion from $172.50 per par­cel per year to $153 per par­cel per year in 2019-2020 will be­come the ac­tual rate charged for the 2020-2021 tax year, as well.

The Coun­cil voted 4-1 for these changes, with Mayor Chuck McGuire dis­sent­ing on fears that the city can not af­ford the cuts this will make to the public safety bud­gets.

The two de­ci­sions will be for­mal­ized by res­o­lu­tion at the next meet­ing.

The de­bate has col­ored the spe­cial tax process since be­fore the July 2018 spe­cial elec­tion which ush­ered in the lat­est ver­sion of a spe­cial par­cel tax on which the city has de­pended for decades.

Prior to that vote, the Coun­cil con­sid­ered a lower rate than named in the bal­lot mea­sure, with much dis­cus­sion since over what was promised.

In the July 2018 spe­cial elec­tion, Mea­sure C re­ceived 2,089 votes in fa­vor, or 80.22%, and 515 votes against it, or 19.78%. It re­quired 66.66% to pass.

The bal­lot mea­sure au­tho­rized a tax of up to

$182.50 per par­cel per year to fund the Po­lice and Fire de­part­ments. It in­cludes a for­mula for re­duc­ing the amount of the spe­cial tax an­nu­ally if other rev­enues in­crease over the tax’s six-year du­ra­tion.

In its first year, the Coun­cil voted 4-1 for the max­i­mum $182.50 an­nual tax rate, with Coun­cil­man Gene Stump dis­sent­ing. He sup­ported an an­nual rate of $153.

Some res­i­dents be­lieved the coun­cil had pledged prior to the elec­tion to set a lower rate, one more in line with the $150 per par­cel per year rate of the previous spe­cial tax, which ex­pired one month prior to the spe­cial elec­tion.

Op­po­nents cited dis­cus­sions held dur­ing City Coun­cil meet­ings be­tween when Mea­sure C was ap­proved for the bal­lot and the elec­tion it­self re­gard­ing set­ting the tax rate at less than the max­i­mum.

There was de­bate from the public about whether or not coun­cil mem­bers promised a lower rate. City At­tor­ney Chris­tian Bet­ten­hausen said the coun­cil had not taken any con­crete ac­tion re­gard­ing a lower tax rate prior to the elec­tion, as he had specif­i­cally rec­om­mended against it be­cause it would only cause con­fu­sion among vot­ers.

Since the spe­cial tax vote in July 2018, the Coun­cil has two new mem­bers, Nick Lessenevit­ch, elected in Novem­ber and Ron Smith, ap­pointed in July.

For the 2019-2020 tax year, the Coun­cil in July set the rate slightly lower, at $172.50 per par­cel per year. An­tic­i­pated rev­enues from the com­mer­cial mar­i­juana in­dus­try did not ma­te­ri­al­ize as hoped and the for­mula would have left the rate at the max­i­mum.

The Coun­cil, how­ever, wanted a show of good faith to vot­ers that the tax would de­crease over time.

The vote was 3-2 in fa­vor of the $172.50, with Lessenevit­ch and Smith dis­sent­ing. The pair had fa­vored set­ting the tax rate at $153 this year, as had been con­sid­ered pre­vi­ously.

Coun­cil­man Don­ald Par­ris re­quested the mat­ter be brought be­fore the Coun­cil again at the Sept. 10 meet­ing, cit­ing cit­i­zen com­plaints that the Coun­cil had not up­held a pledge to set it at $153.

“If we’re go­ing to be truth­ful as Coun­cil mem­bers and if we’re go­ing to hold our­selves to stan­dards of in­tegrity, we need to do this,” he said.

Par­ris said the max­i­mum $182.50 was to fully staff the Po­lice and Fire de­part­ments, which has not yet hap­pened.

“We’re not any­where near close to that. Those moneys ap­pear to have been spent any­way,” he said. “If you have it, you spend it.”

By plac­ing the ex­cess rev­enue in re­serves, the money will be avail­able should the staffing in­crease.

“It’s not go­ing away. We’re just hold­ing you more ac­count­able,” Par­ris said.

Smith ar­gued the city needs to be­gin now to wean it­self off the spe­cial par­cel tax and pay for the public safety with­out it.

“What we are liv­ing on now as a city should take care of our public safety as well,” he said. “We are liv­ing way, way be­yond our means.”

The city has yet to fi­nal­ize its budget for the 20192020 fis­cal year, which be­gan July 1. It has been op­er­at­ing with monthly stop­gap mea­sures main­tain­ing spend­ing at no more than 2018-2019 lev­els.

Val­ley Press files

Con­tin­u­ing a de­bate that has raged for more than a year, the Cal­i­for­nia City Coun­cil agreed to lower the spe­cial par­cel tax rate by about $20 per par­cel per year, which will re­duce the rev­enues avail­able to the Po­lice and Fire de­part­ments.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.