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El Monte to place sugary-drink tax on November ballot

El Monte proposes sugary-drink tax

The El Monte City Council will place a proposal on the November ballot that would charge customers one cent for every ounce of sugary drinks they buy.

The council had to declare a fiscal emergency Tuesday to comply with election law to place the tax proposal on the ballot.

"The word 'fiscal emergency' is a requirement that they do that gets the ears perked up, but we have a balanced budget," said Julio Morales, the city's finance director.

This year, the general fund budget decreased by about $1 million to plan for projected expenses.

El Monte is not at the edge of bankruptcy, but needs the "sugar-sweetened" drink tax revenue to prevent potential insolvency, officials said. The tax could generate as much as $7 million in total annual revenues, according to a city report.

The measure comes as the city faces increasing financial obligations and lower revenues in a tight economy. In the next two years, $2 million will be spent on keeping the city's fire station open and $2 million will be spent on deferred city employee salary increases.

A half-cent sales tax will expire in 2014.

"People are looking for who's the next one [to declare bankruptcy]. El Monte is not the next one … not today, not now," Morales said earlier this week. "What we're doing is financial planning. We're trying to take the right steps."

Three cities -- Stockton, San Bernardino and Mammoth Lakes -- have already sought bankruptcy protection this summer. In July, Compton officials also announced financial difficulties.

El Monte Mayor Andre Quintero said the proposed tax also would help to combat health problems caused by sodas and other sweet beverages, which he likened to cigarettes.

"These drinks have a similar secondary impact; it may not be to the lungs, but it will be obesity and diabetes and dental decay," Quintero said. "We're chemically altering our bodies in a way that's very dangerous."

For now, the decision is out of the city's hands.

"The voters will decide what will happen," Morales said.

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-- Melissa Leu and Sam Allen

twitter.com/MelissaLeu

Photo: El Monte voters will decide in November whether the city will charge customers one cent for every ounce of sugary drinks they buy.  Credit: Emile Wamsteker / Bloomberg

 
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