Utility Tax Made Simple

By Luke Phillips

Next week Holtville residents will have their choice of three ballot measures that would directly affect the city’s tax on utilities, but unfortunately most residents seem to be confused about what the measures mean and how they would affect the tax and so far the city has done little to clear the confusion.
According to information from the Imperial County Elections Department, Measure ‘M’ would reduce the tax for a period of five years, Measure ‘N’ would reduce the tax for a period of three years and Measure ‘O’ would extend the tax for five years. The city would presumably have the option of installing a new tax at the end of the three or five year period if measures ‘M’ or ‘N’ pass.
The real question, which was first brought up by City Treasurer Pete Mellinger, is what happens if more than one of the ballot measures pass that are in direct conflict with one another, such as Measures ‘M’ and ‘O’ or Measures ‘N’ and ‘O’.
Why did the city make this whole process so confusing? Why haven’t they issued a press release or at least made a coherent statement explaining the measures?
The first time Mellinger asked City Attorney Steve Walker about what would happen if two conflicting measures were to pass, he couldn’t provide an answer and said he would find one before the city council’s next meeting. When Mellinger asked the same question at the next meeting Walker again dodged the question, saying that not all of the measures are mutually exclusive and that some combinations actually could be enacted at the same time. But he still failed to explain what would happen if conflicting measures were to pass.
I personally called City Manager Alex Meyerhoff and posed the same question and he told me he would have to defer to the City Attorney and that he would get back to me with an answer. That was two weeks ago and I still haven’t heard back from Meyerhoff or Walker.
So here we are less than a week before the election and the public is still as confused as ever about what to vote for. Some have accused the city of purposefully presenting the measures in a confusing manner so that none of them will pass and the city won’t lose out on the precious funds garnered from the tax, nearly 20 percent of the general fund budget.
I happen to agree that utility tax should stay. It seems like a small burden for each of our residents to bear compared to the good it does for the city, but perhaps some special dispensation should be given to low income residents that truly are struggling.
Whatever the case, the city should have cleared up the whole matter long ago so that the residents of Holtville are able to make a responsible, informed decision. This isn’t communist Russia and backroom schemes to confuse the public shouldn’t be tolerated.
And to make it a little more simple for the voting public:
If you want to keep the utility tax in place simply do nothing. If none of the ballot measures pass, the tax will not change and will remain in place as it has been for the past 17 years.
If you want to get rid of the tax Measure ‘N’ is probably your best bet. It establishes a sunset clause at the end of three years and if they don’t want to lose the funding the city council would have to vote to enact a new tax at that time.