Things like this don’t happen very often in Orange County: Los Alamitos city officials sought to reduce utility taxes for the community Monday only to be dissuaded by residents, encouraging the city to keep the money to spend on other projects.
With a $7.4 million reserve built up, city leaders sought to give back to the community during hard economic times by instituting a one-year 1 percent utility users tax reduction. The move would have cost the city $358,333, and it would have saved the average apartment dweller $1.50 per month and homeowners $3.80 per month. A majority of City Council members enthusiastically endorsed the proposal until a handful of residents asked them to reconsider.
“I am leaning toward favoring this because I think it gives the taxpayers back their money at a very difficult time,” said Mayor Troy Edgar.
However, Pete Carvajal, a resident and city Parks and Recreations Commissioner, urged the council to keep the money and invest it in something that stokes community pride and quality of life.
The savings to each resident is minimal and unlikely to add up to much whereas the $358,333 could go far in community improvements, argued Carvajal, one of three residents to ask the council to reconsider.
“What’s not insignificant, and what I’d like you consider is what makes a community,” said Carvajal. “We have cut back Christmas decorations. We have given that up for the sake of fiscal conservatism. We no longer have band in the park…These are the things that make a community.”
The city almost cancelled the annual Fourth of July Fireworks show for lack of funding, gophers have torn up the Little League baseball fields at Orville Park, and the median along Los Alamitos Boulevard is need of beautification, said Carvajal.
“Let’s give them back some of these things that make Los Alamitos,” said Carvajal. “Let’s beautify the center islands. Let’s hang some Christmas decorations...start investing in our community and what makes it a great place to live.”
Giving back $18 a year isn’t even enough for one meal for a family of four, said resident JM Ivler. Instead the city could give every family a $30 chip good toward any parks and recreations program or class.
“Maybe you should consider rewarding the residents of our city by making them a bigger part of it,” Ivler said.
The one-year tax reduction is little more than a “feel good tax,” said resident Richard Murphy. “You are basically patting me on the head and giving me a lollipop,” he told the council.
“I think we need to do something – even if it seems very minimal – to give back to everybody,” said City Councilwoman Gerri Graham-Mejia, who originally proposed the temporary tax relief in response to a city rebate program that limits benefits to businesses and homeowners making property improvements.
In the end, the Council held off on the tax reduction, instead opting to survey residents to find what their priorities are for the money.
How would you spend $358,333 in the community?