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We were hoodwinked on tax

Original post made by Renee Batti, associate editor of The Almanac, on Mar 16, 2007

The following guest opinion by Dee Tolles, former mayor of Menlo Park, was published in the Almanac's March 14 print edition:

In the summer of 2006, I was invited to endorse Menlo Park's Measure K, the Utility User Tax.

The decision I made to endorse this tax and appear on fliers was based on the information I was given that stated the city was running a deficit and that drastic cuts were going to have to be made unless this tax was enacted.

The endorsers of Measure K were told that the city's beloved institutions, such as the public safety providers, the library, and our street maintenance programs, were at risk of drastic, destabilizing budget cuts. All this because our city was running an $800,000 deficit and, we were told, would continue to run deficits unless the UUT was passed.

In January 2007, it was announced to the public that the city ran a $3.7 million surplus in fiscal 2005-06, not the forecast deficit of $800,000.

In fact, we have not run a significant deficit for the past four years, and no further cuts to vital services were contemplated. In fact, on Oct. 6, 2006, one month before the election, the city manager and finance director had the auditor's report in hand that revealed the $3.7 million mistake. Why didn't we hear about it then?

Would I have endorsed Measure K had I known these facts? No! Would the City Council have endorsed this tax? At least three former council members say no. Would the residents of Menlo Park have voted for this tax had they known these facts? I doubt it. The tax passed by only 65 votes.

This tax allows the city to collect from each of us 3.5 percent of our ever-increasing water, electric and gas bills and 2.5 percent of our cable, cell phone, DSL and telephone bills. It will cost many homeowners several hundred dollars a year.

I submit that the City Council should rescind the UUT because we all were deceived. Any argument or spin with regard to the current or future need for this tax is irrelevant. Measure K would not have passed if we knew we had a surplus.

I put my good name and reputation out there to support what I thought was the right thing based on information that was completely false. If the current City Council does not rescind the UUT, the residents of Menlo Park should get organized and petition the council.

Comments (5)

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Posted by A Convenient Untruth
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Mar 16, 2007 at 9:54 am

As posted on this very forum:

Web Link

Nicholas Jellins acknowledged the surplus on October 26, a few weeks before the election, but said he still supported Measure K. Though the information about the surplus was widely disseminated and discussed in October, the deposed council members and their supporters have suddenly developed amnesia and claim that they didn't know about it last November.

Unfortunately, Dee, Menlo Park residents are not quite as dumb as you seem to believe.

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Posted by miffed
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 16, 2007 at 10:27 am

Based on the information I was given. Boy! We sure keep hearing that phrase a lot don't we? I'll bet I'm not the only one that wants to know exactly WHO gave you and other endorsers that false info! 65 votes? What a joke! I agree! It should be rescinded!!

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Posted by UUT supporter
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Mar 17, 2007 at 2:36 pm

While I don't like to pay taxes when not necessary, I am not at all convinced that the surprise surplus can be expected in the future. For too many years, the city has deferred payments on infrastructure and has not accounted for substantial liabilities, such as for employee benefits post-retirement. What I am very unhappy about are the pot-holes in streets, lack of traffic enforcement, reduced library hours, and lack of any meaningful planning for El Camino and the commercial zone around 101. So I supported the tax to improve current service levels and to fund important work to improve the city's revenues, and I still do.

I am concerned that there have been so many shifting portrayals of the budget. I think public fund accounting and normal delays such as from the state confound the situation. Nevertheless, we should have an independent audit of where things really stand. The city should use the talent of the community with an advisory group (at least one).

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Posted by The UUT mystery
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Mar 17, 2007 at 7:45 pm

UUT supporter, with all due respect, that is not the issue on the table here. There are other threads on this message board discussing the budget and the need (or not) for the tax.

The issue raised by this thread is "what did they know, and when did they know it?" The old posse is claiming they didn't know nuthin before the election. But they're on record as claiming otherwise prior to the election.

That said, I agree: we seriously need a real audit, and an updating of our budgeting software, which I understand is many generations behind the curve.

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Posted by UUT supporter
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Mar 18, 2007 at 7:12 am

UUT mystery, I agree that a real audit is in order. I am somewhat less interested in who knew what/when than in what the real numbers are so we can trust reports and forecasts. Of course it would be interesting to know the sequence of events in an election year with 3 Council seats at risk and a city manager seeking a promotion to a big county job.

An audit also should examine the adequacy of staffing and the software. I have heard that Ms. Augustine is very capable and quite respected but has insufficient support.

I made my comments because the original posting concluded that the UUT should be rescinded, not that there should be an audit.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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