LOS ANGELES, July 30, 2012 — The City of Duarte is following San Bernardino as another California city suffering from severe fiscal problems.
According to the City Council of Duarte, the city is going broke. It will consider declaring a fiscal emergency this Tuesday and placing a measure on the November 6 ballot to increase sales tax by up to a half-percent for the next six years.
The council meeting will begin at 7 p.m. at Council Chambers at 1600 Huntington Drive.
If the tax measure is approved by a simple majority of Duarte voters, the tax could restore public safety spending and reverse service cuts made in recent years to deal with revenue shortfalls.
“We know times are difficult - then we’ll need to make deeper cuts,” Mayor John Fasana says. “From my standpoint, the level of cuts is getting into the bone. We’re getting past the meat and into the bone with some of the services we provide.”
Instead of cutting spending, what do California’s local leaders do? They come up with ideas to raise taxes. The Duarte City council will consider measures to add either a quarter-percent to the sales tax, which will add nearly $1 million a year to city coffers, or a half-percent, which would generate nearly $2 million.
The council could also propose another option, officials said.
In past years Duarte has closed the public safety office on Fridays to cut costs. It has also reduced the number of its special assignment deputies and cut the graffiti removal contract.
Yet with all these reductions, and others, including weekend youth and senior programs as well as lengthening its tree-trimming cycle from three to five years, shortfalls are massive.
According to Mayor Fasana, “The City of Duarte is not in a situation that San Bernardino, which declared bankruptcy this month, finds itself in. We don’t want to get there either,” he added, noting that additional cuts or new revenue sources should be found sooner rather than later.
City Manager Darrell George said, “The city would have to declare a fiscal emergency to put the measure on the ballot since its next municipal election is not until November 2013. But the city is also declaring a fiscal emergency, due to the state taking at least $2 million in redevelopment dollars since 2008 and the state’s decision to dissolve redevelopment agencies. The city’s redevelopment agency had generated $1 million for the city annually.”
The state take-aways “have continually lessened our ability to do economic development projects and those economic development projects lead to a healthier tax base, especially in a small city like Duarte,” George said.
According to George, sales tax revenues are also down about $1 million per year and property tax revenues have been stagnant since 2009.
Councilwoman Liz Reilly says she would support a half-percent increase in sales tax over a quarter- percent:
“Really what we need to do is get enough income so we can restore some of our programs and know that in the future, if the economy doesn’t upswing and it stays the way it is, we’ll still have money in order to operate and that we don’t have to go back and ask for more.”
Some of the local residents, however, have expressed concern that a sales tax increase may drive shoppers out of the city that will in the end defeat the purpose of the sale taxes increase:
“Some of our Duarte residents (have said) `if there’s a sales tax that goes on in Duarte, I’m going to shop elsewhere,” Duarte Unified School District Board Member Tom Reyes said.
It would cost the city about $45,000 to consolidate its special election with the Nov. 6 general election, according to a staff report. The City of Duarte needs to find away to stop large overspending and find a budget that will permanently reduce spending to a sustainable level, protect education and public safety to the greatest extent possible, and provide a basic safety net for the most vulnerable.
By raising tax rates, a future of local residents moving out of Duarte may come soon than city leaders think.
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