Holtville Voters To Get 3 Choices For Utility Tax; But Will It Cause More Confusion?

By Luke Phillips
Holtville City Treasurer Pete Mellinger addressed the city council at their meeting Monday to express his concern about three measures on the November ballot regarding the city’s utility user tax.
Mellinger says the three measures will be confusing to voters and questioned what would happen if more than one of the measures passed, a question that City Attorney Steve Walker couldn’t immediately answer.
There will be three measures on the November ballot concerning the utility tax: Measure ‘M’ would reduce the tax for a five-year period, Measure ‘N’ would reduce the tax for three years and Measure ‘O’ would extend the tax for five years. Each measure requires a majority to pass, but it’s not clear what would happen if more than one of the measures passes. If none of them passes, the tax will remain on the books as it is now.
Mellinger says he’s concerned as city treasurer about what would happen if the tax were lost and urged the city to clarify the matter.
“There will be drastic changes in income if we loose our utility tax,” Mellinger said. “What is the city’s position? Which department goes first? Which employee goes first?”
Walker says he’s done some basic research and studied Brawley as a model of what happens when a city loses it’s utility tax. According to Walker, Brawley relied heavily on cutting personnel to meet their new budget requirements. He also said the city could see cuts to staff training and travel budgets and city recreation programs. He also suggested that the city may have to cut back on night time lighting of city parks to save on power bills.
Council member Mike Goodsell said that the city would have to ‘cut employees pretty excessively’ if the tax were lost and reminded the council that nearly half of their general fund comes from the utility tax.
“We’re not going to get that by turning off the lights at Samaha Park,” he said.
Mellinger says that the public doesn’t fully understand what would happen if the city were to lose the tax and called on the city to release some kind of information on the matter.
Walker says that right now the city has calculated the amount that would have to be cut from the budget without the tax, but says that no specific categories have been identified for cuts.
“It’s way to early to tell what specific cuts you’d have to make because right now you don’t have to make them,” he said.
Meyerhoff told the council that he would return with more information on the ballot measures at their next meeting on October 24 and would have Walker clear up the question of what would happen if multiple ballot measures were to pass.