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Voters approve Measure U

Utility tax is updated to reflect new communications technologies.

April 12, 2011|By Bill Kisliuk,

Burbank residents overwhelmingly approved a revision of the city’s utility user’s tax Tuesday night, voting 2-1 to pass an updated version of the city’s 42-year-old levy on telephone, electricity and gas services.

The preliminary tally showed 5,264 voters approving of the measure, with 2,555 opposed. City Clerk Margarita Campos is scheduled to formally certify the election Friday.

The measure did not propose an increase to the 7% tax. Instead, city officials said, it altered the law to reflect more complicated times in the communications field, with consumers choosing from among multiple phone service providers and technologies, including traditional land lines, cell phones, text messaging and Internet-based services.


Cindy Giraldo, the city’s finance director, said the update of the tax, and gaining explicit voter approval for it, will protect the city from legal challenges by lesser-known wireless firms or others who say their services should not be taxed. In addition, Giraldo said, the city’s revenues will be better protected as the use of land lines decline.

“We’re strictly taking it to the voters to preserve and protect this revenue stream for the city,” Giraldo said before the vote was tallied.

Not all voters were convinced, however.

“When I first saw it on the ballot, I thought it was written to deceive,” said Pat Peck, who cast her vote at City Hall Tuesday night.

More than 70 other cities around the state, including Glendale, Pasadena and Los Angeles, have gained voter approval in recent years for updated or new utility taxes.

The tax currently brings in about $20.3 million a year for the city’s general fund, with about $7.5 million coming from telephone services. The levy applies to Burbank residences and businesses. It is collected by the service providers and forwarded to the city.

Measure U gives the City Council the power to amend or repeal the law without voter approval, but any increase in the tax rate or addition of a newly taxable service would go to the voters first.

Qualified low-income seniors and disabled residents are exempt from the tax. That policy will continue under the new law.

James Franken, also at City Hall, said he thought the measure was a common-sense move. “I think the town is going is just to update old language to make it fit better,” he said.

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