Vernon Voters Reject Utility User Tax

By Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou, EGP Staff Writer

A tax measure placed on the ballot after Vernon city officials declared a state of fiscal emergency has failed.

Less than fifty people voting in yet another special Vernon election Tuesday defeated Measure A, which would have instituted a 9.8 percent utility user tax on property owners. Twenty-four people cast “no” votes, while just 16 people said yes to the tax.

The results for Tuesday’s election are semi-official. Of the 44 ballots cast, four were challenged as being cast by non-residents. Those ballots were set aside pending an election contest hearing wrapping up this week. The margin is wide enough that even if those votes are included, the outcome would not change.

Vernon officials put Measure A on the Sept. 18 ballot after declaring a fiscal emergency. It was expected to raise enough money to remedy a projected $12 million shortfall and would have sunset in two years.

“I am disappointed we did not succeed in convincing our voters of our city’s urgent need to raise general fund revenues to support public safety and other critically important city services. We must now consider alternative strategies to reduce our city’s sizable budget deficit,” said Vernon City Administrator Mark Whitworth.

One Vernon resident who attended the ballot canvassing session held immediately after polls closed offered up her reason for voting against it. “Until council members take decreases to their salary and benefits, I will not support new taxes,” said Susie Ybarra, who is married to Councilman Michael Ybarra.

Her husband was elected after reforms were made to reduce council pay. He receives a lower salary than the other council members who were on the council before the reforms were implemented. Councilman Ybarra has also stated that he owns property in the city and would be impacted by the new tax.

Initially the city proposed an 11 percent tax, but it was lowered to 9.8 percent after businesses took to council meetings and threatened to move their businesses out of the city. The business chamber has continued to urge city officials to find more areas to cut before taxing property owners.

In recent elections, the business chamber has actively courted voters by knocking on doors and getting to know the handful of households in the city. This time they simply sent a letter explaining their opposition to the tax, said Marisa Olguin, president of the Vernon Chamber of Commerce.

Olguin says the city needs to make some “difficult decisions” about its expenditures, whether it’s implementing a furlough, or decreasing benefits, or taking other actions that would still maintain a sufficient level of service. No matter the outcome of the tax measure, the business chamber will continue to work with the city on the budget, she said.

The canvassing session was attended by several residents, the business chamber’s president and city staff. Reno Bellamy, a candidate in the June 5 city council election now being challenged, was also in attendance. The canvassing board consisted of several Vernon city department heads, a businessperson and Cynthia Kurtz, former city manager of Pasadena.

The voters challenged in this election were Glenn Davis Gulla, Dean Gulla, Gary Sabara, Jr., and Victor Garcia. They are among ten voters whose residences in Vernon are being challenged by the Vernon Chamber of Commerce. The city is currently holding hearings on the matter and has one scheduled for this morning, Thursday, Sept. 20.

Read more about the voter fraud hearings in Vernon: Testimonies Begin for Vernon Voter Fraud Hearings

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September 20, 2012  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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