Quentin Burke Speaks Out On The Utility Tax

To the Editor:
I thought your readers might be interested in my remarks to  City Council Monday night, during the discussion on the city’s User Utility Tax.
“I want to say at the outset that we’ve found Holtville to be a warm and congenial City. A City that was supportive of us during our years of stewardship of the Holtville Tribune. A City that was supportive of our children as far as education goes, giving them a good basis to continue on through college to higher degrees. Helpful to them, and to us, were the many programs they were involved in, from craft programs at the Holtville Woman’s Club through band programs, and the educational loans provided by the Holtville Rotary Club.
“At my age, I don’t usually go out at night, but  reading the papers lately and more especially, the agenda packet for tonight’s City Council meeting, I was spurred to come to tonight’s meeting. I wanted to make one thing perfectly clear: I am here to say that the City’s tax structure is fine to me.
“Some 20 years ago, I served on the committee that enabled the passage of the Utility Tax. There are three or four people here in this room who also were on the committee. The reasons we needed the tax then are the same as today: Survival. I wrote an editorial in the Tribune at that time urging passage of the ballot measure. I submitted it to a national editorial writing contest, where it was selected among the finalists. But one judge noted: “What’s the other side of the question?” Reading that I said to Ellen: “Oblivion.”    The Council had wisely decided not to “sunset” the tax for that very reason.
“That’s the way it is. The UUT provides almost 20% of the City’s Budget. No way the city … which I understand had 40 plus employees back in 1991… could make do with 7 or 8 less than the 27 we have now. And whom, I might add, work well together to keep up our City.
“What could possibly motivate anyone in the year 2011, facing enormous cutbacks in State funds flowing to the cities to argue for lower tax rates?
“Are we suddenly to ignore our role in providing services and planning infrastructure for future generations?  Look at the record from history: The City was a scant  four or five years old when residents voted a bond measure of almost $40,000 for a water plant. In 1914, a bond measure for sewers and a bridge over the Alamo. In 1920, some $50,000 for the water system, sewers and fire apparatus.
“These were the same people who carried buckets of water to keep the palm trees in Holt Park alive.  They knew their responsibility to  their city, their fellow citizens, and to their children and grandchildren. It’s all in this book, The First 30 Years, including a note that one bond measure passed without a single negative vote.
“Have we become, over the decades, so narcissistic, so wedded to self indulgence that we can’t spare a dollar for the city’s tax coffers?
“Twenty years ago, no one in this room likely had an iPod, a cell phone, a laptop computer, an internet connection, satellite TV, dish network, Netflix membership or a flat screen HDTV. The fact a good percentage of the City’s residents have these  electronic toys, and their children too, indicates that our standard of living has increased over the last two decades.  We spend money on these self indulgences, but never add up the figures that show how much they cost us each month..
“Instead, we’re looking at the State and Federal Governments for distribution of state and national tax dollars, and have done very well with grants for our  water plant, roads and streets, redevelopment projects, amongst other things
“In the light of tax money flowing back to us,  is a utility tax of about a dollar a day too onerous?  That’s per household, now, not per capita. My son in Chicago pays $6,000 plus a year in city taxes on his three-bedroom house.
“Many of us in this room are in their 70s and above and drawing from Social Security. Anyone who has done their mathematics knows that after 10 or 12 years on Social Security, and Medicare, we have withdrawn more than we put in. The ride after that is on the backs of our children and grandchildren who are paying in their taxes to keep us covered, and will for many years to come.
“And we want to weasel out of a dollar a day by repealing the utility tax?  If there are any octagenarians at the Council table to whom the $30 a month is too burdensome to pay to support the quality of life in this, our jewel city east of the Alamo, he or she can present me with their 2011 UUT tax bill, and Ellen and I will see what we can do to pay it in their stead.”
Quentin Burke.
(Mr, Burke is a former publisher of the Holtville Tribune. He continues in business here as a graphic arts consultant. His panorama of Date City Store is now displayed at Hot Rods & Beer.)