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Brawley: Future without utility tax?

April 29, 2002|By DARREN SIMON

Staff Writer

BRAWLEY — In June 1998 voters here approved a measure that allowed the city's utility tax to remain in place for another 10 years.

The tax will officially "sunset" in June 2008.

With the City Council moving through the budget process for the coming fiscal year, which starts July 1, City Manager Jerry Santillan was asked if he foresees a day when the city could do away with the tax.

His response: city staffers are working under the idea that the tax will expire, and there are no plans to ask voters to approve a new utility tax.

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Santillan said he does not foresee a need for the tax when the city's tax base increases and the number of people employed rises.

This fiscal year the tax likely will bring in close to $1 million for the city. Next year, City Finance Director Fred Selk said, the tax is expected to bring in just over $1 million.

Selk said he is hopeful Santillan is correct that the utility tax will no longer be necessary in the future.

As for the coming fiscal year's budget, it is projected to be around $32 million and there are few changes projected to city finances over the current fiscal year.

The council has started budget workshops with city staffers and another session is set for 6 tonight in the council chambers at 225 A St.

Santillan said the council should be ready to vote on finalizing a budget toward the end of May.

Santillan said he is looking toward growth such as that brought about by the new beef-processing plant, which has created 600 jobs in Brawley and could add another 600 jobs, to reduce the city's need for a utility tax.

Santillan has said other businesses have voiced interest in the city in the wake of the beef plant opening.

There are plans for more housing development in Brawley and for industrial and commercial development in the southwest section of the city.

The city also is looking toward growth in its northeast section on land recently annexed into the city known as Luckey Ranch. That property, about 500 acres, is set for commercial, industrial and residential development. The beef plant sits on a portion of that annexed property.

City officials expect the development of a San Diego State University campus just east of the city to attract new business.

The one concern Santillan voiced was the external factor the city has little control over — the state economy.

Still, Santillan said even if the state's economy is weak he is confident Brawley can continue to capture growth as businesses look to the constants in the Valley — namely low-cost power and water.

Councilwoman Jo Shields said she is optimistic the city will be able to manage without the utility tax, but like Santillan, she said the state economy could be a factor.

Shields said, "I think we have to be careful as we work toward that goal."

Shields said the city is experiencing growth and there likely will be more.

Santillan said the city is focusing on attracting economic growth. He said in coming months the city will look at hiring an economic development director to push forward those efforts.

He added that effort is focusing on industrial development, but as new industry comes into the city creating jobs, more commercial business will be attracted.

>> Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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