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DUARTE : City Council Tentatively OKs 3% Utility Tax Over Objections


Despite a hostile public hearing, the Duarte City Council tentatively approved a 3% utility tax Tuesday on a 3-2 vote.

Some residents pledged to circulate a petition to force the issue onto the ballot.

"Why is this council afraid to place (the tax) on the ballot?" asked Linos Paras, a leader of the Duarte Taxpayers Group. "Is it because most of the council members cannot convince the people it is truly needed?"

The tax, which would begin in February if it receives final approval, and run for four years, is expected to cost the average household an extra $84 a year, according to city officials. It would have low-income exemption and be applied to water, electricity, gas, telephone and cable bills.

The three council members who voted for the tax said there is no other way to make up a budget deficit for this year of about $500,000, short of resorting to widespread layoffs and slashing vital city services, such as Sheriff's Department programs, the library, graffiti removal and the senior center. Dissenters Mayor Margaret E. Finlay and Councilwoman Ginny Joyce agreed that the tax is necessary, but said the voters should decide the issue.

"I am not supporting this initiative because I still want input from the community," Joyce said.

But council members John R. Fasana, James D. Kirchner and Phillip R. Reyes said local government is a representative democracy and that they would make the decision and live with the consequences of their votes.

The city already cut $880,000 from this year's budget of about $17 million, said Kirchner, who had previously opposed any new taxes. "When you get down to it, you can't cut any more," he said. "It's not our position to let our community go into bankruptcy."

Reyes, who also originally opposed the tax, said a dose of reality made him change his mind. "I don't see any other options at this point," he said, warning that further cuts would erode city services so badly that property values would drop.

But some of the residents denounced the council majority.

Buddy Geelhoed, a Duarte resident, said he was amazed how often both Democratic and Republican politicians run on promises of no new taxes only to reverse their position once they are in office.

"I want to know where the money is going. I want to know what the people are getting," resident Kathy Ross said. "I am extremely unhappy with the issue of this tax. I have been unemployed since March."

Resident Steve Hernandez said he supports the tax but thought the council should explain the issue directly to as many citizens as possible before approving it.

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