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Parcel tax decision could come tonight

Submitted by on 1, March 15, 2010 – 6:00 am3 Comments

By Michele Ellson

The Board of Education is set to consider tonight whether to ask voters to approve a parcel tax to replace the ones local property owners now pay.

District staff is recommending the board ask voters to okay a $659 annual tax for owners of single family homes, condominiums and multi-unit buildings with two, three or four units. Owners of commercial or industrial property or multi-unit buildings with five units or more would pay a tax of 13 cents per square foot, with a cap of $9,500 under the staff proposal.

The tax, which would be voted on by mail ballot by June 22, would be in effect for eight years and is expected to generate $14 million a year to help cover state funding gaps that have widened considerably since Measure H passed in 2008. State funding accounts for 77 percent of the district’s budget.

The school board has not yet offered policy direction on what the tax money would cover, though district leaders have said that over the next three years, they would have to consider closing schools, cutting salaries, shortening the school year, boosting class sizes and eliminating programs like elementary school music, physical education and media center if the tax is not approved by voters or the state does not come through with additional funding.

Currently, residential property owners pay $309 a year in Measure A and Measure H parcel taxes, while commercial property owners pay $120 through Measure A and 15 cents a square foot with a $9,500 cap. Those taxes sunset in 2012.

Owners of commercial property and apartment buildings filed two separate suits in Alameda County Superior Court, seeking to invalidate Measure H on the grounds that property owners are not uniformly taxed. The judge handling both cases has said he disagrees in rulings on court motions, though neither case has gone to trial.

Under a settlement agreement with local landowner and yacht merchant John Beery, the school district set up a parcel tax advisory group to lay out the structure for a new tax. The group voted, 8-3, to maintain a split roll.

Commercial property owners and small business owners who The Island spoke with last week said that they believe the district does need the money they’re asking for, but they’re opposed to the tax structure being considered. They said they think the proposed tax is unfair to small business owners because their share of its cost would be higher than that of homeowners or larger landowners, whose costs are capped.

They said they want to see the district place a more uniform tax, like a per-square-foot charge for all property owners, on the ballot.

Proponents of the tax have said that none of the structures considered for the tax are fair. And district officials said they a uniform per-square-foot tax would harm small businesses because, they said, their taxes would increase under such a plan. Under the current proposal, many businesses would see their taxes decrease, they have said.

The public session for tonight’s meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. in the third floor conference room of the district office, 2200 Central Avenue. If the board does not make a decision on the tax tonight, they said they will hold another meeting at 5 p.m. Thursday in the district office conference room.

3 Comments »

  • Susan Davis says:

    Just wanted to clarify that under the proposed parcel tax, every commercial property owner on the Island will pay LESS — not more — than they are currently paying under Measures A and H, to the tune of 17 to 47 percent.

    In addition, commercial property owners would pay 16% of the total revenue raised (while residential property owners would pay 84%). Again, this is a decrease for the commercial property owners; under Measures A & H they are paying about 35% of the total revenue raised.

  • alameda says:

    So … if commercial property owners will be paying less than before, who is picking up the slack?

  • Susan Davis says:

    Hi Alameda,

    Under the proposed parcel tax, residents will pay more, as will the landlords of apartment complexes that have five or more units.

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