AGOURA HILLS : Group Vows Fight Over Utility Tax Plan

A group of Agoura Hills residents plans to fight a proposed utility tax as the city faces the worst fiscal crisis in its 12-year history.

"This is something that's going to hit our pocketbooks," said Barbara Murphy, chairwoman of the loose-knit Citizens Against New Local Taxes. "I'm going to oppose this tax until the city makes further expense reductions."

Murphy and others have recruited dozens of people to testify at public hearings Wednesday night and May 25 on the proposed 5% tax on the use of water, electricity, gas and telephone service.

The tax would add $7.50 to bills to households that spend $150 a month on utilities. Murphy said based on an informal survey she and several others conducted of 20 randomly selected homes, the cost would be more in Agoura Hills, where utility bills often are higher.

According to city figures, the tax would raise $1 million needed to plug a projected gap in the budget next fiscal year.

Because of state cuts and tax losses, revenues are expected to fall $662,500 short of the $5.9 million needed to run the city, and another $343,800 short of the required insurance and reserve funds in the fiscal year beginning July 1, said City Manager Terry Matz.

Nearby cities, including Los Angeles and Calabasas to the east, use utility taxes to raise money for services. Westlake Village does not have such a tax, but imposes fees for maintaining public landscaped areas.

Although Agoura Hills officials have proposed a utility tax before, the idea has never reached the public hearing stage. After the hearings, the council may consider approving it.

Murphy, who served on the ad hoc Citizen Budget Advisory Committee this year, suggested that the city could trim its services--possibly including the Planning Department--instead of approving a tax.

"Development has dwindled to a standstill over the past five years," Murphy said. "A lot of us on the (committee) didn't know what the planners are doing right now."

But Director of Planning and Community Development Dave Anderson said he and his full-time staff of four are as busy as ever with building inspections, code enforcement and reviewing ideas for development in the future.

"If someone can't communicate to the city on what they want to build and get feedback, there's going to be less likelihood of development occurring," Anderson said. "It would be counterproductive to have less staff when we're trying to encourage economic development."

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