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Committee wants Manteca council to pop utility tax trial balloon
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Fred Millner made his position clear.

“The whole (utility) tax thing is a farce,” Millner said in leading the charge Thursday on the council appointed  budget advisory committee to pop the utility tax trial balloon – at least for now – that was floated to address a pending $11.3 million municipal budget deficit.

In a way, Millner was the perfect point man in making passionate statements about the utility tax proposal.

He is a retiree on fixed income with no prospect of his property taxes dropping as he has been in his Powers Tract home too long to benefit from the anticipated drop in assessed tax valuation. That means he will have no temporary tax relief to counter a one cent increase in state sales tax going into place April 1 plus jumps in the vehicle registration fees to help the state cover its $42 billion deficit. Altogether, analysts anticipate it will cost individual seniors such as Millner between $100 and $200 more a year in state taxes.

A Manteca utility tax at 55 percent on top of that would end up costing him at least $59 more a year, if not more, as he is paying full freight for sewer and solid waste even if as a single senior he’s is generating less need of for both services compared to larger households.

The committee agreed with Millner on a 10-2 vote that this wasn’t the time to be pushing a utility tax. Some who voted against the tax left the door open in the future if – after other steps are taken and the economy doesn’t rebound – it may be something the city may need to seriously consider asking voters to approve in the future.

City Council members may not have had the stomach anyway to explore placing such a tax before voters in the June 2010 election. The budget committee was formed after the council wanted to get additional citizen input when it was clear reducing municipal services would be needed to keep the city solvent.

Several appointees asked to serve were told point blank by council members that they did not support a utility tax plan at this time.

Staff, in presenting all options, listed a utility users tax as well as a parcel tax for parks among potential options to explore.

Ultimately, any budget cutting decision belongs to the council while any move to increase taxes belongs to the voters. The council, could, however, raise fees for the recovery of costs of providing specific services such as in the building and fire departments.

Committee member Eric Wohle, in casting a dissenting vote, believed soon or later it was an option that the voters would need to have to give them a choice between further service level cuts or taxing themselves to generate more revenue.

“Do I think it will pass?” Wohle asked rhetorically of the utility users’ tax. “Not in a million years.”

Staff prepared estimates on what a utility tax adopted ranging from 1 to 6 percent would raise plus how much it would cost individual average households. The utility tax was estimated on electricity, natural gas, cable TV, water, sewer and garbage service for residential only. It did not include phone service as there were no readily available figures.

A 5 percent utility tax would generate $3.9 million at a cost per capita of $59.28 a year while an average household of three would pay an average of $177.83 a year.

If the rate was applied to commercial and industrial as well, it would lower the residential costs.