It’s up to you, voters. During a special meeting on Wednesday night, Mammoth’s Town Council adopted a proposed ordinance that will place Measure U, an extension of the Utility Users Tax, on the June 8 ballot.
The tax was originally set to ride off into the sunset after June 2011.
Voters can opt to vote down the resolution, but if they vote to retain it, the new resolution would repeal the tax’s original sunset date and replace it with, well, apparently nothing. The tax rate would, however, remain unchanged at 2.5 percent.
The main issue debated during the public hearing essentially went to specificity of the tax’s language. The resolution describes the new special tax as being “for … mobility, recreation, and arts and culture.” A little vague? Perhaps. During general testimony, some members of the public thought so, too.
Kirk Stapp said he thought the proposal was “too general,” saying he supports continuing the tax, but argued that it would make more sense to voters to target specific projects.
“Take Trails, the Ice Rink and the Whitmore Track project, and you’re looking at $3.5 million, leverage that to about $7 million. Put an eight year cap on it and you can have all these done for about $850,000 a year,” he posited. “Then voters can decide to come forward with another set of projects.”
He also advocated a 50 percent plus one simple majority vote versus the resolution’s two-thirds requirement. “With the recession, there’s a general attitude toward government. Voters have very strong feelings about the trustworthiness of government,” he opined. Stapp suggested that keeping the language too general does little to engender confidence from the electorate and risks losing vital votes.
John Wentworth, part of the citizens committee that advised drafting of the resolution, called Stapp’s notions “compelling,” but indicated that a 51 percent vote doesn’t count as enough of a “commitment” and sets too low a threshold for practical use by a campaign.
Stapp countered that Measure R, which Wentworth helped spearhead, was the only recent measure that was passed by a two-thirds vote. Stapp said at least three others for marketing dollars, housing and capital projects, all passed with a simple 51 percent majority. The safeguard can be easily accomplished, he submitted. “Put a cap on it. If a future Council renigs, it will blow future opportunities to identify specific projects,” Stapp said.
One point not addressed is whether certain groups of users can apply for exemptions (such as senior citizens who are now exempt from paying the school parcel tax).
Language was deleted that would have allowed some of the money to replace roughly $400,000 in Measure A funds for air service guarantees.
Council member John Eastman said he shared Stapp’s concerns, but has come to agree with Measure U, adding it’s not a General Fund tax and pointed out the large amounts of revenue generated by large utility users, such as Vons and Mammoth Mountain.
Mayor Neil McCarroll said he originally “missed the point.” California, he observed, has relinquished its role of looking after the welfare of its citizens. People are enacting small, locally-specific taxes to take control of their own destiny. They’re springing up all over the state, he said.
The resolution to extend the tax passed 5-0.