Local Taxes:
Los Angeles County Postpones Action on Proposed Water 'Fee'

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 on January 15 to postpone action on a proposed "fee" on 2.2 million parcels to raise money for projects designed to clean up the county's water supply. At the meeting, a large number of residents voiced significant opposition to the plan, prompting Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky – a major supporter of the proposed fee – to comment, "What is clear is that this is not ready for prime time."

A report on a new version of the proposal – or perhaps an entirely new proposal – is scheduled to be brought to the board March 12.

As originally proposed, the "Los Angeles County Flood Control District Clean Water Fee" would have imposed an annual "fee" ranging from $54 a year for most single-family homes to $54,749 for large commercial parcels. The amount would be based on factors including lot size and how much of the parcel is covered with impenetrable surfaces (so that, for example, a parcel with a large parking lot would pay a higher amount, ostensibly because it is more likely to pollute the water system as rain washes debris into storm drains).

During the Board of Supervisors hearing, Santa Clarita City Councilman TimBen Boydston complained, "God sends us rain, and you figured out how to tax it." A property owner told the supervisors, "I'm not drowning in runoff, I'm drowning in taxes!"

The Los Angeles Unified School District complained that the proposal would cost the district $4.8 million a year, and that this new expense would be harmful to schools. Many business owners noted that they already spend large amounts of money to ensure that debris and contaminants do not enter the water stream from their properties, so they should not have to pay a "fee" to pay for cleaning up storm runoff from other properties.

The original proposal called for an all-mail election that would be decided by a majority vote. If the revised version includes exemptions for schools or other types of properties, the "fee" will take on even more characteristics of a traditional parcel tax that requires a two-thirds vote. (Source: Los Angeles Wave, January 15.)

January 18, 2013
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