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Group makes progress toward new parcel tax

Submitted by on 1, January 12, 2010 – 6:00 amOne Comment

A committee set up by Alameda Unified to help create a new parcel tax for the district has a set of suggestions for how the tax should be structured, but stopped short of saying how much taxpayers could be asked to pay.

The Board of Education is getting a presentation on this tonight.

The committee, which was set up to help settle a lawsuit launched by local landowner and yacht merchant John Beery in an effort to get rid of Measure H, has agreed on a dozen items that they think should make up the structure of a new parcel tax that they hope will replace the district’s existing taxes, Measures A and H. The list includes a split roll similar to what is already included in Measure H, but one that limits the contribution commercial property owners make to 25 percent of the total amount collected (I think the original split was about 50-50).

The committee is also recommending the new tax include a per-dwelling charge for apartment and other multi-unit buildings and a separate rate for “unimproved” property. If approved by voters, the tax would be in effect for at least a decade, and seniors would be exempted, per the committee’s recommendations.

The recommendations were voted on at the 12-member committee’s January 7 meeting.

The committee was set up after business owners launched two separate lawsuits in an effort to get rid of Measure H, which costs homeowners $189 a year but commercial property owners up to $9,500 a year per parcel, a disparity that had commercial property and business owners crying foul. The committee was set up in an effort to settle Beery’s suit.

Meanwhile, the attorney representing George Borikas and others who filed a separate suit has told the court his clients intend to seek a judgment in their case and that they will make a motion asking Judge Kenneth Burr to set their matter for trial, the district’s attorney said. A case management conference in the cases is set for February 4.

Both Measures H and A, which imposes a flat tax of $120 per parcel, are set to expire in 2012. Meanwhile the district is anticipating a deficit of $16 million for that school year, prompting district officials to lay out school closure and other scenarios intended to bridge the gap in the event a parcel tax does not pass.

Measures A and H provide the district with $7 million a year. Measure H barely passed, with just over two-thirds of voters saying yes to the tax.

A district press release announcing the settlement said a recommendation on a new tax was due to the School Board by January 12. It said the board would vote by February 28 to accept, reject or modify the committee’s recommendations and that it could place a new tax on the ballot by June.

Here’s the recommendations:

One Comment »

  • Leland Traiman says:

    Prior to the passage of Prop 13 the California Supreme Court said that a split roll was legal. This means that one can charge businesses a different rate of taxation than residential property.

    When Berkeley started square footage taxes after Prop 13 forbid ad valorem taxation in 1980, that principle of a split roll was applied to square footage taxes. To my knowledge, the principle of a split roll as it applies to square footage taxation has never been challenged.

    The Supreme Court did not address the issue of two different methods of taxation for business and residential property only different rates using the same method. Measure H is not what the Supreme Court has allowed. Rather, Measure H is two completely different methods of taxation for businesses and residential property. It is a square footage tax for business and a flat rate parcel tax for residential. Therein lies the problem. The Supreme Court MAY find this legal but, I would guess, we do not want to fight a court case all the way up to the California Supreme Court to find out.

    To solve this problem the new tax must be all one thing or another. I favor a square footage tax with different rates for business and residential properties.

    However, if the School Board were to put on the ballot a flat rate parcel tax for residential property then, I believe, it would be prudent to have a flat rate parcel tax for businesses as well. The business and residential rates could be different but the method of taxation should be the same.

    A square footage tax for schools has passed in Berkeley and Emeryville with the necessary 2/3 vote. If voters in those cities could figure it out, I believe, Alameda’s voters can also.

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