Initiative takes aim at utility fees

Tom Cordier, in a photo from April, when he spoke to the council on another matter. .

Tom Cordier, in a photo from April, when he spoke to the council on another matter. .

Two years ago, North Albany resident Tom Cordier successfully initiated a charter amendment requiring voter approval of Albany city debt. Today he filed another initiative. This one would require voter approval of city taxes or fees on utility services and cancelling all existing ones after six months if voters don't approve.

Finance Director Stewart Taylor, handling the matter while City Clerk Mary Dibble is away, said the city has a few days to determine whether to accept the filing. If it does, it will be up to the city attorney to write a ballot title and summary of Cordier's proposed measure, and Cordier then can try to collect signatures of at least 15 percent of Albany voters to get the proposal on the ballot.

His draft of the measure says the city "shall not" impose or increase "any sales tax, franchise fee, privilege tax or transfer tax without the approval by a majority of Albany voters in a primary or general election." It also says that any such taxes or fees in effect at the time his proposal is enacted "shall expire in 180 calendar days."

I was wondering what this might mean, so I looked up the Albany city budget online. It says franchise fees and taxes make up about $5.1 million of the revenue in the $34 million general fund. Total personnel costs for 196 employees in the general fund are $25.6 million. Theoretically then, up to 40 people would have to be laid off if none of the utility fees were approved. Police and fire, by the way, account for 165 of the total personnel in the general fund. (Dividing the personnel budget by the number of budgeted positions yields an average of $130,000 per person. If that seems high to you, it does to me too, even considering that it includes benefits and payroll taxes.)

Cordier had urged the city council to call a public hearing before approving an already budgeted 40 percent increase -- from 5 to 7 percent -- in the city electric utility tax or franchise fee for Pacific Power, but the council approved the increase Wednesday. Cordier did not take long to react. (hh)

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