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The taxman cometh

Submitted by on 1, July 14, 2008 – 7:45 amNo Comment

The City Council passed a budget a few weeks ago, but there was one big piece of the process outstanding: Revenue solutions to the city’s ongoing money woes. At the end of June, a polling firm hired by the city asked 400 Alameda voters how they’d be willing to tax themselves to help fill the city’s coffers. The winning solution: A nearly threefold increase in the property transfer tax. The tax, which could impact people buying and selling property here on the Island, would increase from $5.40 per $1,000 paid for a piece of property to $14.50 under the proposed November ballot measure. Even in this apocalyptic market, it would apparently put an additional $6.9 million in the city’s general fund each year – an amount that will increase as new developments come on line, according to this city staff report. The tax increase would require 50 percent of voters plus one to pass, just under the 52 percent of voters polled who would at least lean toward supporting it. In Alameda County, the transfer tax ranges from $4.50 per $1,000 in Hayward to $15 in Oakland and Berkeley; Albany just put something on its November ballot to increase its transfer tax from $11.50 per $1,000 to $14.50. Other solutions floated by the pollsters were another $120 a year parcel tax for public safety, which would require a two-thirds vote to pass but only had the support of 41 percent of those polled, and a maintenance assessment, which was supported by 27 percent of those polled. So can this thing pass? According to pollster Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin and Associates, we like our city, think it’s headed in the right direction, and don’t perceive any significant problems here. That said, we like our city services – especially our fire stations, which got a temporary reprieve from rolling blackouts this budget cycle – and we don’t want to see them get cut (except for the golf course, which 43 percent of those polled said could go with less maintenance). The proposed ballot language for the tax hike is here. The council is slated to consider the ballot measure at its regular meeting Tuesday night at City Hall.

And while we’re on the subject of ballot measures, the council will also consider a slew of amendments to the city charter for the November ballot, which from the looks of things could rival San Francisco’s in size this go-round. On tap are changes that would require the city auditor and treasurer to be a certified public accountant and licensed financial planner or analyst, respectively; eliminate transportation from the purview of the Public Utilities Board; requiring city contracts to be in writing; allow the city manager to issue no-big contracts in case of emergency; and allow the City Council to change office hours for city offices. The list is here.

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