HAYWARD — Residents will be queried by phone beginning this week to see if they would support a utility tax that would be used to maintain city services during tough economic times.
The utility tax could be attached to electricity, gas, cable, phone and cell phone usage, City Manager Greg Jones said. Other Alameda County cities have already imposed such a tax — typically 5.5 percent to 7.5 percent of a monthly utility bill, he said.
The city has mailed questionnaires and sent staffers door to door to let residents know about the possible measure and collect feedback.
The City Council at its Feb. 24 meeting will consider putting a measure on an upcoming ballot. If placed before voters in June, the measure would need to garner more than 50 percent of the vote to be implemented.
The city has already initiated a host of cost-cutting measures, saving a combined $7 million. The measures have included imposing a holiday furlough on workers, consolidating departments, and striking a deal with police and fire unions to forgo contractual raises for two years.
The city also cut 50 jobs, but Jones said the steps haven't been enough to offset the city's deficit. An additional $10 million to $12 million in cuts will be needed to balance the budget next year, he said.
If voters don't back the utility tax plan, the city will have no choice but to reduce emergency services, public maintenance, after-school programs and library hours, he said.
Jones said officials had considered putting a tax on the ballot in last year's summer election, but decided the timing wasn't right.
"Things have changed significantly since then," he said. "It's much, much worse."
Jones said the city is projecting a drop in revenue of $5 million to $7 million, due to less sales tax and property tax income. He said reassessments and foreclosures will have a major impact on how much money the city collects.
The city will begin conducting a telephone survey later this week that will run for about 10 days. The results are expected to give the city an idea of where voters stand on a utility tax.
"We're trying to validate that these essential services are priorities for the community," Jones said. "I'm not saying the sky is falling, I'm saying we need to take a clinical look at where we are. We have to ask, 'Do we want to increase revenue, or do we want to cut services?' "
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