By Luke Phillips
At the Holtville City Council’s meeting Monday, a group of local residents gathered for the third meeting in a row to demand the elimination of the city’s 5 percent utility user tax.
Holtville resident and former police chief Clifford King returned to the podium once again to ask why the issue of the utility tax was not on the agenda.
“You better start working with the public to end this,” King told the council. “You better work with us to end it or you’re going to lose it all at one time. If you want an election then let’s do it, but quit trying to ignore it.”
After several calls from the public at a meeting last month, the council directed City Manager Laura Fischer to organize a finance committee meeting to look at the issue, but some on the council felt that the meeting, which also took place Monday night, was not open enough and shouldn’t have been held behind closed doors.
“It was not a public meeting and I was pretty troubled by that,” council member Mike Goodsell said. “I think the finance committee meeting would have gone a lot differently if the public had been allowed to attend. We need to make every effort to be transparent on this issue.”
After the finance committee meeting Goodsell also said that he’d be open to lower the tax by very small increments.
Jerry Brittsan, who has been working to repeal the utility tax, and Mayor David Bradshaw both said that they agree with Goodsell that the process should be transparent and the tax should be lowered incrementally. Council member Colleen Ludwig said that the council doesn’t “have any desire to hide anything. We need to review it and see what can be done.”
Local business owner Shayne Brady who has expressed his opinion on the tax at several past council meetings returned Monday with a question for city attorney Steve Walker. Brady has accused the city of being unfriendly to businesses in Holtville and asked Walker if the city had ever been sued by the state for not following mandates that require businesses to make expensive improvements.
Walker told Brady that he couldn’t remember if this had ever happened in the city.
“My memory is not what it once was,” Walker said. “My recollection is kind of hazy.”
Brady went on to blast the council once again for their direction of the city manager and planner.
“We have an antagonistic business attitude here,” Brady said. “You guys just don’t understand business friendly. I’m going to get re-zoned because these two don’t like their toes stepped on.”
Brady pointed out Fischer and City Planner Justina Arce and was called out by the mayor for making a personal attack, something that is not allowed at council meetings.
“You guys are going to get the utility tax taken away,” Brady said. “Fire, police, sewer and water, that’s all you guys should be responsible for. You’re building all these new parks with this grant money, but the city doesn’t have the money to pay for the maintenance. It’s going to be on the back of the residents.”
Brady once again received a round of applause from those in attendance, but council member Ludwig took the comments personally.
“I’m not even going to respond to you allegations,” Ludwig said. “They’re so far out there. You need to do some research.”
By Luke Phillips