CITYWIDE Homeowners could soon be asked if they are willing to pay on average $54 a year to fund projects intended to protect the Santa Monica Bay and other water bodies.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is considering floating a parcel tax on all property owners to avoid being fined as much as $10,000 a day for each violation of a federal consent decree requiring cities and the county to dramatically improve water quality.
Almost all water bodies in the county do not meet state and federal water quality standards and are listed as impaired under the federal Clean Water Act, officials said. It is estimated that billions will need to be spent to get into compliance.
If the board votes in favor of the concept at its June 19 meeting, residents will be allowed to voice their opposition or their support for the tax at a public hearing and by mail or e-mail. If a majority are in favor, as recent surveys suggest, property owners will be able to vote by mail sometime in the spring of 2013, according to city and county officials.
The measure would need a simple majority for passage. It would apply to all parcels in the county, including those owned by City Hall.
Santa Monicans already pay on average $127.65 a year for two local water quality measures and city officials are concerned that if the county measure passes, residents may be less inclined to vote for more taxes in the future.
That may be needed since the citys stormwater management fund is currently overdrawn. When the fee to fund it was established in 1995, it did not include a mechanism for annual increases based on inflation. Increased operations and maintenance costs have contributed to the fund being in the red, said Dean Kubani, City Halls director of the Office of Sustainability and the Environment.
City staff estimates that the fee would need to be doubled to $72 per year and an annual escalator would need to be added to ensure that the fund is self-sustaining. If not, more money from Measure V, the clean beaches parcel tax approved by voters in 2006, would need to be diverted.
Staff is concerned about directing property owners fees toward regional projects and about the citys future ability to generate sufficient revenues for local stormwater infrastructure and treatment, Kubani wrote in a memo to the City Council.
The way the county initiative is drafted, cities would receive 40 percent of revenues collected from their community. Projects over $1 million would be submitted to an oversight board and cities would have to submit annual reports and would be subject to audits.
Watershed Area Groups, which are comprised of neighboring cities or unincorporated areas of the county, would receive 50 percent of the money raised in their areas for projects. Santa Monica is grouped with cities stretching from Agoura Hills and Malibu to Manhattan Beach and Torrance. Santa Monica would have one vote on the area group governing board.
The remaining 10 percent of many raised through the parcel tax would go to the Los Angeles County Flood Control District for administration costs, research, assistance to cities, water quality monitoring and engineering and financial reports.
It is estimated that Santa Monica would receive about $862,400 a year through its 40 percent. Theres no telling how much money Santa Monica would receive annually from the regional fund.
Despite that uncertainty, Santa Monica-based Heal the Bay is supporting the county initiative. Like homelessness, improving water quality is a regional issue and demands collaboration, said Kirsten James, the environmental watchdogs director of water quality.
Water transcends city and county boundaries, James said. This is a logical step to work on regional water issues together, collectively. It will help not only in effectively improving water quality and also streamline funds more efficiently. Through this process, cities and counties determine what regional projects make sense.