LYNWOOD — Facing angry protests from more than 200 residents, the City Council this week cut back a new utility tax during a special session.
The council voted 4 to 1 on Monday to impose a 3% tax on utility bills, effective Jan. 1, a reduction from the 10% tax approved Oct. 30. The tax will increase average residential bills $35 a year, utility spokesmen estimated. Senior citizens will be exempt.
But the council also left open the option of increasing the utility tax in increments to a maximum of 10% over five years.
"The council will evaluate the tax each year and increase it only if there is a need," Mayor Pro Tem Paul Richards said.
The decision apparently failed to pacify most of the residents who turned out for the special meeting. When it became clear that the council was prepared to approve some type of utility tax, more than half the audience walked out.
"I'm against any new taxes. I won't endure any taxes," resident Anthony Giordano said as he left.
More than 20 people spoke at Monday's meeting, with most of them urging officials to rescind the tax. A few said they would favor a smaller tax.
Resident Dick DeWitt urged the council to place a utility tax measure on the ballot. "Let the citizens decide," he said.
The 3% utility tax is expected to raise more than $1 million next year. Officials said the money is needed to pay for such services as street and sewer repairs.
The council passed the 10% increase Oct. 30 to avoid restrictions that would have been imposed by Proposition 136, which would have required cities to receive voter approval before raising taxes. The proposition was defeated in last week's election.
Mayor Robert Henning said at the beginning of the special meeting that the council was willing to consider a reduced tax as a result of the defeat of the ballot measure.
The council had scheduled the special meeting after an overflow crowd showed up at a council meeting last week to protest the 10% tax. More than 100 residents were turned away and remained outside, chanting, "We want in!" The council held the special meeting Monday in Bateman Hall, a large auditorium in the civic center.
Councilman Armando Rea cast the only vote against the tax. He said he favored the 3% tax the first year but would have limited future increases to 1% a year for the next four years.
Officials said the tax is needed to pay for repairing streets and sidewalks, removing graffiti and improving recreational services.
"We cannot fix potholes or repair the Natatorium (the swim center), which has termites, without money," Henning said.
Lywood was one of three Southeast-area cities to raise taxes shortly before the vote on Proposition 136. Compton council members raised the utility tax from 5% to 10%, and Downey council members approved a 3% utility tax.
BACKGROUND In 1988, Lynwood voters overwhelmingly defeated a ballot measure that would have added a 10% tax to monthly telephone bills to pay primarily for more police protection. Pacific Bell Telephone Co. mounted a strong attack against the measure, contending the proposed tax would have unfairly singled out telephone users. The company spent more than $24,000 for mailers, brochures and newspaper advertising in attacking the measure. The company did not oppose the city's recent utility tax.