NEWARK — Residents who go to the polls in November will be deciding if they want to tax themselves.
City Council members adopted a resolution Thursday that will place a measure on the ballot asking voters to approve of a 3.9 percent utility users tax that would generate about $2.6 million annually for the cash-strapped city.
If approved by a simple majority Nov. 3, the tax likely would be charged beginning in January and continue for 20 years.
Although each council member supports the tax idea, the ballot measure proposal has met some public opposition, primarily from those displeased with its duration and its wording.
The vote placing the measure on the ballot came after the council approved $1.5 million in cuts to the current $38 million budget, the same reductions that were discussed in a May budget workshop.
Most of the cuts, about $713,000, are being made to police services. Among the reductions are funding for three vacant positions — two police officers and a commander.
Another round of cuts — estimated to be about $3.5 million — will have to be made later this year if the city cannot find a new revenue source, City Manager John Becker said.
Revenue from the utility tax, if approved by voters, will not completely bridge the financial gap, but will drastically help, he said.
The tax, which would be added to gas, electric, telecommunications and video service bills for residents and businesses, would cost the average household about $12 a month, Becker said. Some would be exempt, including government agencies and low-income seniors.
Council members approved of the percentage, although councilmen Al Huezo and Luis Freitas each said they would have supported a higher percentage tax.
Becker said the proposed percentage was selected based on a series of surveys conducted during the last year.
Before council members approved the measure, they listened to comments from more than a half-dozen people on both sides of the issues.
During the council meeting, the measure received backing from the Chamber of Commerce, former Councilwoman Shirley Sisk and two residents who urged the city to take action before the city goes bankrupt.
Residents Dean and Margaret Lewis and another couple objected to the tax, stating that they thought the 20-year period was too long.
They also urged the council to earmark the money for specific services — doing so would require a two-thirds vote rather than a simple majority — instead of having the money go into the general fund; and that the city include the 20-year period in the ballot wording.
"If you want to be upfront, it should be in there," Margaret Lewis said. "I think Newark residents need to know."
Council members had the option to include the time period on the ballot. However, analysts had noted that doing so would decrease chances of its approval.
Although there was a lengthy — and sometimes heated — discussion over the issue, the council approved the measure.
"It's important we give our residents this choice (to vote on the tax)," Mayor David Smith said.
Reach Ben Aguirre Jr. at 510-353-7011. Read his blog at www.ibabuzz.com/tricitybeat.