Passage of Rialto’s Measure M June 5 Would Extend 8% Utility Tax Into Perpetuity

On June 5, Rialto voters will have the opportunity to vote for or against Measure M, which if passed would permanently impose on the city’s residents an extension of the 8 percent utility users tax they now pay and which is set to expire on June 30.
Unlike most such taxes, Measure M will not sunset, meaning it will become a permanent part of the governmental landscape in Rialto, presumably forever.
Rialto officials have come to rely upon the utility tax, which supplies a significant percentage of the city’s revenue, representing on average 18 percent of the proceeds into the city’s general fund, roughly $14 million of the $77 million on the income side of its budget.
City staff recommended to the city council earlier this year that it place a measure calling for a five-year extension of the utility tax on the ballot during a special election in April or during the statewide primary in June, but council members unanimously risked going for broke to see if the city’s residents were willing to bind themselves and their successors into perpetuity paying the 8 percent tax. On the city’s website, city officials do not identify which utilities, precisely, the tax is applied to, saying only that it is “levied on the users of various utilities.” In fact, it is applied to water, electricity, television, cable, internet, sewer, heating and cooking gas, and communication services. The average household in Rialto pays $700 in utility tax per year.
The city council was banking upon the apathy of city residents in seeking to get voters to pass the tax extension. “If this tax is so important, why do we want to have it for just five years?” said Mayor Deborah Robertson of the tax, first put into place and extended in 2008 and then again in 2013. City Hall has not been able to live within its means in recent years. City officials have projected that in upcoming fiscal year 2018-19, the city will have a $4.8 million budget deficit.
One of the ways the city has found itself behind the eight ball consists of the generous pension benefits the current and past city council has conferred upon city employees. Presently, in fiscal year 2017-18, $12.2 million of the $77 million in expenditures from Rialto’s general fund go to paying the pensions of retired city workers, such that city residents are paying out 15.8 percent of the city’s yearly budget to people who are no longer working. That amount will increase to $14.2 million next year and to $21.7 million in fiscal year 2024-25.
Very few Rialto residents know about that, however, so city officials believe the tax will be able to pass. Prospects for passage are fair, as no active opposition to the tax extension has manifested. While the city provided an argument in favor of extending the tax for inclusion on the sample ballots sent to city residents, no one came forward to author a rebuttal of the city’s argument in favor of it or to provide an argument against passing the tax extension.
Mark Gutglueck

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