Monterey County

Salinas looks to tax cellphones like other utilities

Salinas City Council discusses utility tax

SALINAS, Calif. - Soon you may be footing the bill to pay for a safer Salinas. 

We've told you a lot about the city's proposed one-cent sales tax, set to go before voters in November.  The city's finance department said it's looking to tax your cellphone like any other utility in the city.  If the measure passes, it'll go into the general fund, to be used in a variety of areas like public safety, just like the proposed one-cent sales tax.

If you live in Salinas, you aren't paying the city any taxes to have a cellphone.  But some said they'd be willing to pay up.

"Depending on how they wanted to distribute the money and what they wanted to distribute it for.  But for the general purpose, I think it would maybe be a good idea," said Salinas resident Noah Camany.

The measure calls for a change to the utility user's tax, which could bring in about $1 million a year.

"Part of it is a revenue issue for the city.  It's one of the ways that the city can raise revenue to pay for police, fire, public works, library services, recreation," said Salinas Finance Director Matt Pressey.

It's something most Central Coast cities are already doing.  The current tax covers all utilities except for cellphones at 6 percent.  But the measure calls for a change to 5 percent.  That means if your cellphone bill is about $50 a month, if the measure passes, you'd start paying an extra $2.50.  Seniors, 65 or older, would be exempt from taxes on utilities all together.  The city said the current tax is simply outdated.

"Clarify and define and actually create a level playing field for all telecommunications users, so both the landlines and those that have cellphones," Pressey said.

The city would be miss out on money from the pre-paid cellphone market, which is about 2/3 of users in Salinas.  That's because the state hasn't caught up on stricter regulations for pre-paid accounts.  Utilities are the third-largest revenue source for the city of Salinas.  City leaders said it's costing them about $20,000 to get this measure on the ballot.

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