Utility Tax Opponents Decry GT City Hall “Scare” Tactics

(October 17) Opposition to Measure C, the five percent utility tax proposal being put forth by the city of  Grand Terrace, has formed.
The group, headed by Doug Wilson, Jeffrey McConnell and Mark Jolstead, have created a website and are undertaking an informational campaign aimed at convincing the voters in 12,040 population Grand Terrace, the third smallest of the county’s 24 cities, that the tax is unnecessary and that judicious budget cuts in city operations, including reductions in what the group characterizes as overly generous salaries and benefits to the city’s remaining workers, will stave off the financial crisis city officials claim justifies their call for the tax.
Calling Measure C a “business killing tax,” the group charged the city with both “scare tactics” and a disingenuous and selective presentation of data in its try to convince the city’s residents that the municipal budget needs to be supplemented with more taxpayer money.
“We believe we should live within our means and not spend more than we have,” the group’s web site states. “We don’t want the politicians and bureaucrats at City Hall threatening us and our families with closing our parks and senior center to bully us into spending more of our hard earned paychecks to help supplement theirs. We know there is another way and the ‘Yes On Measure C’ people refuse to tell voters there are other options. We have more than one option to this 5% utility tax.”
The group said the prime movers behind the tax measure are a relatively limited set of people, led by Grand Terrace Mayor Walt Stanckiewitz and councilman Bernardo Sandoval.
“There are two councilmen and their troops walking door to door telling the people that our city is going to close down if you don’t vote for this tax,” the web site states. “They are lying to their constituents that they took an oath to represent. This city will not disincorporate nor will it become Colton. This has been a nasty, untrue rumor fed to the people by these two guys verbally at council meetings and through their interviews in the newspapers over the last several years.”
The process for disincorporation is far more involved and complicated than the tax proponents have suggested, the tax opponents insist.
“Disincorporation is an option that the people of Grand Terrace will never vote for,” the web site states. “It was made clear in the April 2013 council meeting by the Local Agency Formation Commission representative that no city has ever disincorporated unwillingly in California’s history. The Local Agency Formation Commission also made clear in the September 24, 2013 council meeting that it is a years-long process and that it must go before we the people, the voters, with a 2/3 vote to disincorporate. Plus, disincorporation does not wipe out our debt. We must also at the same time that we are voting to disincorporate vote to tax ourselves to pay off our long term debt that our previous politicians and bureaucrats have so graciously left us with.”
Those in opposition to the tax say city officials are making misrepresentations to justify the tax.
“We can operate as an ‘independent’ city without this tax,” the web site states. “The political action committee that is run by Mayor Stankiewitz and his faithful sidekick Sandoval keeps saying ‘Pass this tax to keep Grand Terrace independent.’ Once again they are trying to deceive you into thinking we will disincorporate if the tax fails.”
Instead of burdening its businesses and residents with the utility tax, the city should instead “cut the budget” and outsource for certain services, the tax opponents say.
“Our very own city manager, who makes more than $200,000 in salary & benefits in this 12,000+ city, has prepared several budget cut scenarios in case the tax measure fails,” the web site states. “Each one shows that we can live within our means. We don’t agree with their choice of cuts… but since this information was presented to the council…..then why are a couple of them telling the people we have no choice? The council already passed a budget resolution that keeps us in the black if the tax should fail.”
The web site states, “City Hall will be open only 2 days a week. That’s great! Why has City Hall always believed that this little city needs a full time, fully staffed City Hall? How often do you have to go to our ‘business unfriendly’ City Hall? If you did visit….ever have to wait in line? Ever see anyone else other than you in the lobby? When this city was founded in 1978 the city was run as a ‘contract city’ for many years. We were a member of ‘Contract Cities of California.’ In other words, we contracted almost all of our services out. We contracted with experienced people, other municipalities and organizations to do our work.  We ran a very tight ship on a very small budget. The redevelopment agency big bucks came along and as the city budget grew so did the city bureaucracy. But now Governor Jerry Brown shut down all the California redevelopment agencies and Grand Terrace now has a $735,000 budget shortfall, not $1.1 million or even a $1.5 million as some councilmen want you to believe. We lived without the redevelopment money before and we can do it again! Our tax base is much higher than it was in 1978.”
By shrinking the size of government, those opposed to the tax assert, problems that loom large in Grand Terrace will redress themselves.
“How many of the current employees will stick around for a 2 day a week job?” the web site continues. “When they leave, replace them with contract employees! This is your ‘golden opportunity’ to stop the fat salaries at City Hall. All you have to do is to vote no on November 5th. If you don’t, you will be stuck paying their high salaries as well as the $8 million in unfunded pensions that we still have to pay for. And it will continue to grow. This is what’s bankrupting San Bernardino, Stockton, Vallejo and other cities across America. Stop feeding the monster now! If you don’t stop them now…the monster will continue to grow and the bureaucrats will be back to ask for more money just like the Colton Joint Unified School District did when they asked us to pass a second bond measure for our already approved new high school. Colton School District is at it again! They are currently trying to extort more money from all youth groups that use any portion of the school campuses or sports fields or the district will kick them out.”
McConnell told the Sentinel that Stanckiewitz and other city officials are exploiting the consideration that Grand Terrace is “filled with soccer moms and dads. Youth sports are a big part of this community. The politicians are threatening to close the city parks and take away the playing fields if we don’t vote for this tax. It’s a bullying tactic. It is a scare tactic.”
The tax opponents say the threat of having Colton subsume the city is a similar scare tactic. “We love our law enforcement and safe community. We don’t want to end up one day contracting with Colton Police just because they may be less expensive,” the web site states.
Stanckiewitz disputed much of what the anti-tax group said, asserting “It is easy to make blanket statements. We have answered their allegations with facts, yet they continue to spread rumors and inaccurate information.
“As far as the allegation that [city manager] Betsy Adams is overpaid,” Stanckiewitz continued, we completed a survey of fifty cities in the Riverside/San Bernardino County region on total compensation for city managers.  Betsy is ranked 39th out of 50 in total compensation.  That equates to the bottom third of the cities.  This information was obtained from municipal records available to the public.”
Stanckiewitz insisted that instituting a tax was the least expensive and most sensible way for Grand Terrace to maintain its identity as a community.
“We do not think the city will opt to disincorporate either,” he said. “It requires a 2/3 vote of the registered voters and would cost the property owners much more in property tax assessments than the utility tax is asking for.  Some residents would like to go back to county control, but that alternative comes with a steep price tag.  We have had the Local Agency Formation Commission representative out to two council meetings to explain the process.  It is not a pretty picture.”

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