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Norwalk Council Rejects Plan to Reduce Utility Tax From 7% to 6%

March 17, 1994|JILL GOTTESMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Norwalk City Council this week unexpectedly rejected a proposal to shave an additional percentage point off an unpopular utility users tax.

"It's just not the right time," said Councilwoman Judith Brennan, who suggested that the council reconsider the reduction during the June budget sessions.

Councilmen Robert J. Arthur and Gordon Stefenhagen joined Brennan in voting against the proposed decrease, which had been criticized as a political maneuver in the ongoing, heated City Council race. Mayor Luigi A. Vernola and Councilman Michael Mendez were ill and did not attend.

City administrators proposed the cut after a midyear budget review. The council had voted in January to reduce the tax to 7% from its original 8% rate.

The utility tax has been a key issue in the council campaign, in which 13 challengers are attempting to unseat incumbents Vernola, Arthur and Stefenhagen. Several challengers, who have consistently criticized the tax while campaigning, accused the incumbents of politicking by considering a tax cut less than a month from the April 12 elections.

"It (was) a political ploy," said challenger Jim Sweet. "The voters (would have seen) through it" had it passed.

Challenger Mary Jane McIntosh said she believed that officials knew all along that the city could ill afford a reduction.

Although Arthur expressed regret about not reducing the tax to 6%, he said Tuesday night that such a move would have been "fiscally irresponsible" because the city's financial health is still in question. Officials estimated that a decrease to 6% would have cost the city about $150,000 over a three-month period.

But City Manager Richard R. Powers defended the proposed decrease. "When we first adopted the tax, we promised that we would look at it each year," he said. "We agreed that as revenues became available, we'd reduce the tax."

The council had approved the 8% tax in 1992, after state budget cuts slashed $6 million in city revenues. At 7%, the tax generates an estimated $5 million in revenues for the city each year. It is added to gas, electric and telephone bills.

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