Residents have been flooded with mailers like the one above urging them to vote for the passage of the charter reform to allow the transfer of utility revenue to the city’s general fund.
The Long Beach City Charter looks to have been altered with a vote Tuesday night by residents, over half of whom agreed that the city should be able to continue the practice of charging city-run utilities for access to rights of way, and then transferring those fees to the general fund. The practice had been carried out for decades but was recently challenged by two separate lawsuits against the city.
The controversial Measure M saw over 53 percent of the nearly 40,000 ballots tabulated as of Wednesday morning vote in favor of codifying the practice which could potentially save the city’s law makers from having to dramatically adjust future budgets.
It was estimated by city officials that if Measure M had not passed that a hit to the general fund—where the fees have been transferred at years’ end—could have amounted to about $18 million annually, meaning parks, road repairs, and other city services funded through the general fund could have faced cutbacks. Opponents saw the practice as an illegal money grab by the city’s politicians.
Mayor Robert Garcia, who had advocated strongly for its passage, said that in voting in favor of Measure M, the city’s residents again had displayed that it trusted its local government to responsibly spend city revenue on improving the community.
“The city was in good financial shape going into this election whether Measure M passed or not, but Measure M allows us to keep important investments going,” Garcia said late Tuesday night. “And I think the city, once again, trusts its community and trusts its government. I’m just really thankful, this [the initial vote tabulation} is a huge number and I’m really excited.”
Long Beach residents recently approved a 10-year sales tax increase in 2016 with politicians promising to funnel that revenue toward revamping the city’s police and fire departments as well as address the city’s aging infrastructure.
The city placing Measure M on the ballot in an effort to amend the city charter was prompted by two lawsuits brought against its gas and water departments for the transferring of fees that the plaintiffs viewed as illegal taxes being levied against utility users. State law prohibits local utility providers from charging more than what it costs to provide a service and other laws prohibit municipalities from imposing taxes without voter consent.
It settled on one of those lawsuits in November 2017 where it agreed to return $12 million to the city’s water department’s water and sewer line funds and to transfer less revenue annually going forward. A separate suit against the city’s gas company is still being litigated and had it passed the city estimated that the combined impact would amount to about $18 million annually less in the general fund.
The results published by the county show a roughly 2,400- vote lead for Measure M, something that is likely to change as the county clerk’s office continues to recover from a blunder discovered Tuesday where nearly 120,000 voters in the county were unintentionally removed from the voter rolls forcing many to vote provisionally, a process that will require every vote to be hand-certified, and will likely prolong the process of officially certifying election results.
However, city leaders have already begun celebrating the passage of the measure.
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