September 14, 2004 > Editorial: The Futility Tax
Editorial: The Futility Tax
Even to a casual observer of this ill-advised attempt to tax Fremont citizens while taking showers, flushing toilets, making telephone calls and watching television, proponents of the Utility Users Tax (the "Fabulous Five" on the council) are not making much headway. Years of perceived timidity by council members when confronted with economic challenges are coming home to roost. Although all have signed in support of this measure, Councilmember Dutra appears to be the standard bearer while the others are lukewarm at best when meeting with the public.
This isn't surprising since Dominic is the only member of the group not running for office or leaving the scene. Often comments are put forth that with this proposal, the public is being given the choice of what to do about the deficit. Where was this choice two years ago when the financial charts showed the same problem? Why was there no ballot measure at that time? The solution could have been less draconian and if rejected, a stronger case made to the public this time around. If the council and city manager had advocated a tax at that time, it could have been at a lesser amount. These problems didn't just surface within the last year. The argument by the then city manager was that severe personnel cuts were being made and... divine intervention? Or maybe, a quick exit? The cuts were made but it wasn't enough and she and the council knew it.
The case for state takeaways is valid, but this is not the first time this has happened and it doesn't take a crystal ball to see a pattern from that quarter. Arguing that Proposition 13 is one of the culprits is also disingenuous. Sure, you can look at the fact that only 15 cents of every property tax dollar comes back to Fremont, but let's look at the growth of the city and its tax rolls plus the turnover of residences that have released the property from restrictions. These revenues have been rising! Decisions on staffing levels, salaries and retirement benefits have been a significant part of the problem. If the issue is local control of tax monies, why wait until now to rush this onto the ballot? At a recent meeting of the city council, the oversight committee selection and involvement, appeared to be eye candy as a last ditch attempt to garner support from constituents. The business groups voicing opposition to the tax have not been fooled.
Okay, let's haul our dusty and chipped crystal ball out and see what the future might bring to Fremont. This is one future that might bring smiles.
1) The new city manager is personable and reasonable, in touch with city life and readily visible and available to citizens at events. He understands that micromanagement is not profitable and that staff growth and large salaries are not the answer to a happy group of employees. He also knows that his boss is the city council and, by extension, the public. If the "best and brightest" are exiting the scene, there is a problem that needs to be addressed.
2) The city council takes a proactive leadership role and understands that they run meetings to carry on business, not pontificate for cameras. They also know that they are not "city fathers," rather city guardians, burdened with the extra responsibility that they asked for, to listen to their constituents and respond to their needs.
3) The UUT does not pass, but another tax is proposed that will directly support fire and police personnel. Although this measure requires at 66.67% approval, it passes easily as citizens say "yes" to safety services. Police and Fire are assured basic funding through these taxes. City council sees less pressure on the general fund and can restore essential human services and park maintenance. New parks are built and maintained. Quality of life increases dramatically. City council can no longer hold public safety as a hammer over citizens when spending exceeds revenue.
4) The Centerville Unified Site is given substantial funds to create a showplace in Fremont. Emboldened by this success, Redevelopment looks closely at its expenditures and decides that building is better than processing paper and attending meetings. Council and the city manager considers combining Economic Development with Redevelopment and saves on personnel costs, coordinates projects and becomes a powerhouse that revitalizes Irvington, invigorates Niles and energizes all districts and neighborhoods of the city. Business groups and residents are engaged in meaningful discussions and economic policies are actually based on their input.
5) The "downtown" that is craved by the fabulous five emerges after the community and council agree on its location and purpose. It is not built at the expense of the community, but with the full support and practical advice of it. The money set aside previously for this edifice has been used to regain the health of the city, but now that vital signs are strong and in synch, the support is there and funds are available. (It may not have the current councilmember names on the plaque, but these people are not serving for that reason anyhow- right?).
The crystal ball holds many more details, but we all get to see them as this future unfolds. Is this the future? It could be.