Decades long low-income subsidy in peril after Burbank voters reject measure

A decades-long program that subsidizes trash and sewer bills for low-income seniors and disabled people is at risk of being cut after Burbank voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly rejected a special tax to continue its funding source.

Roughly 1,900 out of about 44,000 Burbank households currently benefit from the program, which saves eligible residents roughly $10 a month on sewer services, and about 50% — or between $15 and $25 a month, depending on trash-can size — on trash-hauling services.

Now, with the funding source gone, a cash-strapped city must decide to use General Fund money to support it, or let it lapse.

“This subsidy really helped them out,” said Councilwoman Emily Gabel-Luddy. “Now the practical impact is that all their bills are going to rise.”

The tax would have raised roughly $413,000 a year to fund the program. Residents have already been supporting the subsidies for more than 20 years through extra fees, but recent changes in state law suggest the city faces legal risks if it continues to offer the programs under the current structure.

According to the city, the tax wouldn’t have increased trash and sewer bills, but rather established a different method of collecting the funds.

Even so, it failed to get traction among Burbank voters, 4,910 of whom voted against it while just 3,795 voted in favor, according to preliminary results. The measure pulled in roughly 2,400 less votes than the other two races. To pass, it needed a two-thirds majority.

Gabel-Luddy said she partially blames herself for not doing more to publicize the initiative.

“I don’t think we told a very good story about what Measure S was about,” she said.

Burbank resident Bill Grayeb thinks the “knee-jerk reaction” among voters tends to be to vote against ballot initiatives.

“Most people don’t trust these propositions anymore,” he said. “With the economy, people are just fed up with having another burden.”

Also, the measure was listed on the back of the ballot, so some may not have seen it, or may have confused it with the school bond initiative, also labeled Measure S, which voters approved in March, Gabel-Luddy said.

Councilman Jess Talamantes said he’d like to explore grant opportunities to keep the program alive, whether fully or partially. Because with the city is facing a $1-million budget deficit this coming fiscal year, “the money’s not there” for the city to cover the cost, he said.

While Public Works Director Bonnie Teaford said she hasn’t yet identified grants that could potentially fund the program, “I am as eager as anyone else to find a way to support those who are the most vulnerable in our population.”

-- Alene Tchekmedyian,

Follow on Google+ and on Twitter: @atchek.

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