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City, county tax clarification

Posted: May 12, 2009 7:41 p.m.
Updated: May 12, 2009 4:55 a.m.
I read your article "City boundaries unclear" in the Monday, May 3 edition of The Signal, which explored how aware residents are about the city and county boundaries.

While I believe that The Signal fairly covered this issue in the story, I do want to take this opportunity to elaborate on a few points.
In the article, a city spokesperson is quoted as saying that "We don't charge that in the city," relative to the county's utility-user tax of 4.5 percent. The city spokesperson's statement is entirely accurate, and I take no issue with it.

There are, however, some fees that city residents pay that county unincorporated residents do not pay.

Since 1994, for example, all property owners in the city of Santa Clarita have paid an annual stormwater pollution prevention fee. Although the fee varies depending on the size of the lot, the current rate is $24 per single-family dwelling (or "equivalent residential unit") per year. It is my understanding that the city is considering reducing the fee by about 10 percent.

Separately, city residents pay $25 per year for open space acquisition, as a result of the recently approved voter initiative. Finally, a streetlight maintenance fee of $50 per residence is assessed by the city for those parcels annexed to the city's streetlight maintenance district after the district was originally established in 1998. All other city residences also pay an assessment, but at a lower rate if they were originally in the district.

In short, city residents pay up to about $100 per year on fees that residents in unincorporated areas do not pay.

My staff has calculated what an "average" resident pays per year in utility user's tax, and we estimate it to be $162 per year for a typical single-family dwelling, assuming $300 per month in utility charges.

It is, however, important to note that this fee was reduced from 5 percent to 4.5 percent in last November's election, and that utility user's tax rates run as high as 11 percent in some jurisdictions. Additionally, 56 percent of those who voted in unincorporated Santa Clarita last November favored passage of the measure.

While taxes are never popular, the vote in unincorporated Santa Clarita would suggest that residents are willing to sacrifice a relatively modest tax in exchange for the services those taxes support.

You should also be aware that many of the public services throughout the entire Santa Clarita Valley are provided by the same agency, regardless of where a resident lives.

These services include programs operated by county departments such as fire, library, sheriff, flood control district, environmental health and multiple social service agencies. Except for the sheriff and fire, these departments report to me. All the departments report to the Board of Supervisors.

Other services, such as planning and building, are provided separately by the appropriate city or county department, depending on where one lives.

I appreciate The Signal's coverage of issues surrounding the provision of municipal services. This coverage is particularly important in the next few weeks and months, as the initial fiscal analysis and options comparison studies are discussed publicly.

I can assure you that the county staff will do all we can to keep the electorate informed about these issues as we move toward the advisory vote in the November 2009 election.


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