Seeking to bolster underfunded police and fire services, the Santa Paula City Council will add a public utility tax on the November ballot that could cost local households an additional $24 a month.
The council voted unanimously Monday night to put the tax measure before voters on election day. It would add a flat $6 fee each to monthly gas, telephone, electricity and cable television bills.
The decision comes after months of debate over whether elderly and low-income residents should be exempt.
“We all, independently from talking to people in the community, decided that it was important not to make any exemptions,” City Councilwoman Mary Ann Krause said.
Officials at first considered excluding residents older than 62 and one-person households making less than $23,600 a year. But a June survey of Santa Paula voters found that half would be less likely to vote for the tax if exemptions were included, Krause said.
The tax requires a two-thirds majority vote for approval.
At least 300 low-income Santa Paula residents already receive utility bill assistance from the Commission on Human Concerns, an offshoot of CalWORKS, the state’s welfare-to-work program. The council is looking for additional ways to help those residents cover the tax, such as soliciting funds from federal community development block grants.
If approved, the tax would raise about $2 million a year for Santa Paula’s police and fire services. It would remain in effect for five years and be designated for public safety.
Both departments are understaffed and underfunded, compared with cities of the same size nationwide, a January audit found. The Police Department, with about 30 officers, has an annual budget of $4.2 million.
“We had a low number of police calls but also a low number of officers,” Krause said.
Under City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz’s proposal, police services would receive 52% of the tax revenue, most of which would cover new hires and salary increases.
The Fire Department would use the remaining funds to hire personnel for a second fire station. The station has been built and has trucks.
Two Ventura County sales tax initiatives are slated to appear on the Nov. 2 ballot -- a 1/4-cent increase to preserve open space and a 1/2-cent hike to fund road-widening projects and transportation services.