‘Shooting spitballs at a battleship’?

Hate taxes? Who doesn’t?

But fair-minded taxpayers know they are a necessary evil – the second certainty in life… after death.

Morgan City Mayor Tim Matte shares this opinion about taxes. He’s been against them from day one of his first term.

So after stretching the city’s operating budget beyond reason, he’s found a creative way to raise money to run Morgan City’s police and fire departments and pay utility work crews as well as city employees’ retirement and workers compensation insurance. He’s considering an across-the-board increase in the city’s utility rates.

Matte’s proposal would generate much-needed monies to replace the recent 9 percent drop in sales tax collection. How much money would be generated remains to be determined. And Matte’s been somewhat slow in determining exactly what the rate hikes would be. The devil, many people are predicting, is in the salient details, which will likely be made public at the city council’s Aug. 26 meeting, when the issue is expected to be discussed.

So far, the only number mentioned is an electricity hike, which the mayor guesstimates will run the average citizen an extra $20 monthly. Business owners will pay, on average, an additional $40 monthly.

Considering electric rates in Morgan City have remained the same for nearly 40 years, a 5 percent rate hike may be reasonable.

After all, even utilities director Bill Cefalu has said he’s operating with aging equipment.

But the mayor specifically cited the 2008 fall in sales tax for his budget’s shortcomings. The city’s sales tax revenues were $3.501 million last year, down slightly from $3.525 million in 2007. The first six months of this year, the city has collected $1.702 million.

Given the currently economic condition and the public’s hesitancy to spend, it’s anyone’s guess how the year’s collections will fare.

Blame it on bad marketing, but at a time when most Tri-parish residents – Morgan City residents included – are struggling to keep their budgets in the black, the mayor is latching onto an “across-the-board utility rate hike” strategy.

Given that utilities in Morgan City are operating at a $1.236 million profit, according to budget figures provided by Matte, this could be a tough sell.

One homeowner, Annie Keton, equated the public’s fight to nix any increase to “shooting spitballs at a battleship.”

Certainly, Wednesday’s city council meeting is stacking up to draw a packed house.

Now, if Matte can figure out how to generate power from the wind expelled by residents shooting spitballs in his direction, he may be able to rally the support he needs to sell his utility rate hike.