Utility Users Tax Dominates Brawley Budget Planning Session

Utility Users Tax Dominates Brawley Budget Planning Session

By Chris Furguson

Called “The Big Elephant” by city staff, the Brawley Utility Users Tax was addressed multiple times during the Brawley City Council’s Budget Strategic Planning Session at their meeting on March 21 at the Brawley Emergency Operations Center.

Over the past few years, Brawley staff and the council have held these sessions prior to working on the annual budget in order to gauge council opinion over several pressing issues and to focus on where funding should be prioritized. In upcoming weeks, workshops on general and enterprise funds will be held by the council and staff in order to finalize a budget for passage this summer.

Priorities listed by previous councils include “clean and attractive city,” and “business attraction and retention.” This focus has been reflected in the number of businesses coming into the city and the city’s constant fight against graffiti, as two examples.

However, much of the conversation was taken up by Measure K, a voter-approved 4% Utility Users Tax levied on cable, phone, water, gas, and electricity. Monies generated by the tax helps the city maintain a high level of services.
“It’s difficult to put into words how big losing Measure K would be at this time,” said City Manager Rosanna Moore during the session.

An example of the impact of the UUT given by Moore would be the possible loss of both the Brawley Public Library and the Brawley Parks and Recreation department, which still wouldn’t fully cover the loss of Measure K.

“We can’t just abandon those departments, though,” added Moore. “We have a responsibility to maintain our city-owned properties.” Moore also said that at least 20 employees throughout the city would be lost if an extension of Measure K wasn’t approved by voters, many of whom may be newly hired police officers and firefighters.
Moore also said that other measures would need to be implemented, such as fee increases for city services.

California state law requires all tax measures be approved during an election that also includes board members. Since the UUT expires in May of next year, an extension measure will need to be drafted and put on the November 2017 ballot.

During the next few months, the city staff and council will be working on a new ballot measure that will extend the life of the UUT.

In 2011, when the UTT was brought back to the residents for renewal, the hope was that the city could wean itself from the tax. Unfortunately, the closure of the National Beef Plant and other incidents have prevented that possibility.

Last year, Brawley’s general fund budget was around $14 million, most of which went to employee compensation. Around 80% of the general fund budget is spent on city’s employees with the majority of that spent on the Police department.

In other Brawley news…

The city of Brawley approved a new city mission statement during their meeting on Tuesday night.
The new, much shorter statement replaces one that had been approved at the time of the city’s founding in the early 1900s.

“It’s wasn’t a mission statement but more like a mission dissertation,” joked council member Donnie Wharton. The original statement was over 250 words and went into several specifics that no longer applied to a modern setting.

The new statement goes as follows:
“To effectively provide the highest quality municipal services in a manner that values local assets, builds public trust, and advances overall community prosperity.”
The idea to change the city’s mission statement first came to the council several years ago during a strategic planning session.