2008 Fire Tax Increase Violates City Codes

In July 1997, the Voters passed the Fire Tax ordinance. See here

In 2005, the Fire Tax needed to be amended to include paramedic services. See here

In 2007, the City Council passed a Resolution stating no increase in the fire tax was necessary.

August 9, 2007 City Council Minutes Excerpt:

25. “CONFIRMATION OF THE ANNUAL SPECIAL TAX TO FUND FIRE PREVENTION AND PROTECTION SERVICES, AS WELL AS EMERGENCY MEDICAL RESPONSE SERVICES

RECOMMENDATION: For the FY 2007-08 staff recommending that the rates remain the same as in the previous fiscal year and that Council approve the attached Resolution 2007-18, read by title only and waive further readings.

City Manager Bates explained that this Item is a confirmation of the special tax for the Fire Fund, which continues from last year with no raise in the amount. Next year we will consider this at the time the Budget is being considered.

Mayor Pro Tem Carroll moved to approve the Special Tax for the Fire Fund with no change from last year. The motion was seconded by Council Member Millsap and approved as follows:

AYES: Baroldi, Bergman, Carroll, Millsap and Vipperman
NOES: None
ABSENT: None”

In June 2008, the City Council passed the 2009 Tax Year Fire Tax Assessment. See here

The approval documents did not disclose the percentage increase.

Residents learned that the increase, at 6%, was double the Code stated maximum of 3%. City Staff stated that the increase was 6% because there was no increase in 2007, and that cumulative increases had been done before.

The overage takes $25,000 per year out of residents' pockets.

Multiple Public Records Requests were submitted to the City requesting to see documentation allowing the Fire Tax increases to be cumulative.

After some delay, the City replied that there was no such document.

Residents support the Fire Department, but have not granted the City a blank check to increase taxes.

Municipal Code Section 3.4 (See here) describes the Fire Tax increase procedure.

La Habra Heights Municipal Code Excerpt
3.4.70 Annual Determination of Tax Amounts; Inflation Adjustments
The annual Special Fire Tax adjustments for inflation shall be determined through the following
procedures:
1. The City Council shall annually act by resolution to determine the amount of revenue
necessary to provide adequate fire protection and prevention services to the City and to
establish tax amounts sufficient to generate that revenue. However, the City Council may not
impose tax amounts in excess of those provided by Section 3.4.30 of this chapter, adjusted for
inflation as provided in paragraph 2. of this section, without the approval of two-thirds (2/3) of
the voters of the City voting on the question.
2. The maximum tax amounts specified by Section 3.4.30 of this chapter shall be increased by
the lesser of (i) three (3%) percent or (ii) the percentage by which the Consumer Price Index
for All Urban Consumers in the Los Angeles-Anaheim-Riverside area published by the Bureau
of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor, or any successor to that index, increases
in the twelve (12) months prior to March of the year in which the adjustment is made. The City
Manager shall annually recalculate the maximum tax amounts pursuant to this paragraph 2.
and shall give notice of that determination in the manner required by law for notice of
ordinances of the City.

The Code specifically limits the annual increase to 3% or inflation, whichever is less.

Nowhere is a cumulative increase stated or implied.

Read the entire Code section (here) to decide for yourself.