HUNTINGTON PARK — A San Fernando Valley firm has been hired to educate residents about a projected fiscal emergency in the city that requires a one percent sales tax increase.
The City Council placed a measure on the June 5 ballot asking voters to approve the sales tax hike in February
The current sales tax in Huntington Park is 9.5 percent, which includes the sales tax levied by the state, the county and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the latter two for programs to aid the homeless and for transportation projects.
The April 18 action was part of a four-issue consent calendar, approved on a 4-0 vote with Councilman Manuel Avila abstaining and no comment from the other council members. Other items included minutes of the April 3 meeting, paying the bills and donating $1,500 to a study on planning and transit development by the Paramount-based Eco-Rapid Transit group.
The council authorized City Manager Ricardo Reyes to contract with the Kilkenny Group for a program costing about $70,000 to promote Measure S, the measure that would authorize the sales tax increase officials hope will bring in $7.1 million a year, if approved.
The cost includes $40,000 for mailings, $25,000 for canvassing the community and a $5,000 service fee, Reyes said.
The council action came over the objection of some residents, who told a reporter they oppose using city funds to promote the issue, if there is a financial crisis.
“I oppose spending city funds to try to persuade residents to vote one way or the other,” said resident Kerry Porter, who called for a state audit of the city to determine its true financial situation.
Porter questioned the general terms of Measure S, to “maintain and improve” services, and wondered if the increase was truly needed. He criticized the high salaries the city pays to many department heads, the police chief and administrators.
A second resident, Rudolfo Cruz, protested the sales tax itself, noting that Huntington Park has many low-income residents.
Responding to comments, Reyes said plans to place the issue on the ballot were discussed in open council meetings and information was available online in recent weeks.
“The city is not imposing a tax,” Reyes said. “We placed the item on the ballot to let the voters decide.”
Concerning the call for a state audit, Reyes said, “the city is mandated to have an annual audit by a private firm. If they found anything wrong with those audits, the media would have published it. No news is good news.”
In a written report to the council April 18, City Attorney Arnold Alvarez-Glasman said state law allows public resources to be utilized to educate and inform the public concerning the elements of this initiative, Measure S.
In his report, Reyes added, “The Kilkenny Group has experience in providing the necessary services to conduct a community educational program to inform residents about the purpose of Measure S. City staff does not have the background, experience or resources to provide such services.
“There is sufficient budget within the city manager’s office 2017-18 fiscal year operating budget to fund the professional services provided under this agreement.”