POMONA - Like many cities before it, Pomona has placed a measure on the Nov. 3 ballot that if approved would update the city's utility users tax.

Measure PC, the city's Telecommunications Utility Users Tax initiative, focuses on modernizing language in the telecommunications portion of the utility tax ordinance.

"Our belief is the nature of this legislation is to maintain what we have," City Manager Linda Lowry told a group of residents who gathered at the Willie White Park Community Center recently.

Lowry was invited to explain what the measure is about.

"The real driving force for this has been changes at the federal level," said Councilwoman Paula Lantz.

The federal excise tax "was passed when everyone had a hard-lined phone," she said.

Many cities that drew up their utility tax ordinances more than 15 years ago fashioned them using models that made reference to the federal excise tax, said Michael Coleman, an expert in California local government finances.

In recent years changes to federal regulations were made. Telecommunications technology has advanced and there have been changes in the way companies charge for phone service, he said.

It's now possible to have services charged based on a flat rate rather than based on the length of a phone call or the distance between the callers, Coleman said. These and other factors have prompted cities to review their ordinances.

Pomona's ordinance was adopted in 1969 and contains references to federal regulations that are no longer in place.


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Without the changes the city's ordinance can face legal challenges as has occurred in other places, Assistant City Attorney Andrew Jared has said in the past.

That would put in jeopardy about $4.5 million that the telecommunications portion of the tax generates, according to information from the city.

If the measure fails the city would then have to cut $4.5 million worth of services, Lowry said.

In order to be approved, a simple majority of voters would have to approve the Measure PC.

The city's 9 percent utility users tax generates about $18 million a year for the city's general fund which goes to pay for services such as police, fire, recreation and the library.

Pomona's update would include language allowing it to collect a tax on new telecommunications technology now available such as voice-over Internet protocol.

The update would also allow the city to collect the tax on any future telecommunications technology that allows one person to speak to another the way people do now using a telephone.

"Our expectation wasn't that were broadening" the tax, Lantz said. Instead it's about "bringing the code language into the 21st century."

In recent years and across the state, cities have been taking steps to put measures on their ballots asking voters to approve updating their utility users tax ordinances.

Most California cities are updating their ordinances without asking for a tax increase but are putting measures before voters to comply with Proposition 218 which requires an existing tax that is being modified or expanded to be placed on a ballot.

In recent years about 23 utility user tax measures that offered slight reduction in the tax or kept it the same were placed before voters. All but one of those passed, Coleman said.