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School board begins parcel tax discussion

Submitted by on 1, September 22, 2010 – 4:50 am9 Comments

Courtesy of AUSD

Alameda’s Board of Education held its first public hearing Tuesday to discuss how it will structure a new parcel tax the board hopes to place on a March 2011 ballot.

School district officials told several dozen people who attended the meeting at Kofman Auditorium that they are looking at a tax based on either building square footage or lot square footage that would be levied equally on both homeowners and commercial property owners and they are considering whether to cap the tax rate. Exemptions from the proposed tax, which would replace the district’s two existing parcel taxes, were not on the table Tuesday.

“This is a true crisis facing not just the schools but the economy and the quality of life in Alameda as a whole,” parent Brad Hayward said of the budget cuts the school board is facing. “Even if you can’t find perfect consensus, there’s value to promoting unity to protect this asset.”

Community members asked what the new tax would pay for, how much the district would ask for and whether that amount would be enough to cover cuts the district estimates could reach $20 million over the next three years. The tax amounts the district offered Tuesday were based on a figure of $14 million a year collected under a new parcel tax, though district leaders said the number was for illustrative purposes only.

“Fourteen million won’t be enough to keep all the schools open as they’re configured,” said Charley Weiland, a parent who also served as treasurer for the Measure E parcel tax effort.

Community members asked whether business leaders were on board with the district’s tax plans, and whether the Alameda Education Foundation would be taking on a greater fundraising role for the district than it currently holds.

Alameda Chamber of Commerce President Barbara Marchand said a recent poll of chamber members showed that 73 percent of those who responded to the poll would support a parcel tax, though 31 percent said they would only support it if residential and commercial property owners were taxed at the same rate.

“We are for education, we are for fairness, and we are for businesses,” Marchand said.

Meanwhile, AEF board member Anne DeBardeleben said the foundation would love to do more fundraising, but she doesn’t think it would be enough to address the cuts the school district is facing.

“The most important need is to pass this parcel tax so we can protect as much of what we have as possible,” she said.

Dave Hart, a parent who sat on the Parcel Tax Advisory Group that had proposed the district consider a split roll for Measure E, said he thought a tax based on building square footage would be the district’s best option.

“It comes closest to matching the value of the properties. You’re not able to tax on actual values of property, but that’s the closest match,” he said. “It’s the most uniform we can get under Proposition 13.”

School Board vice president Mike McMahon, who has made getting a parcel tax passed a plank in his re-election platform, said he, too, would favor a tax based on building square footage.

“My initial preference is an unbanded, noncapped building square footage (tax),” McMahon said. “But I’m willing to be educated on whether the benefits happen in order to bring the community together around that.”

School board trustee Trish Hererra Spencer questioned how much money the community would be willing to pay.

“The tax is burdensome for some residents and business owners,” Hererra Spencer said. “It’s important the district do everything we can to demonstrate to our community that we have in fact done our utmost to cut our costs so we don’t have to ask our residents and businesses for any more than we absolutely need.”

David Howard, who works with Alamedans for Fair Taxation, a group that opposed Measure E, questioned the district’s taxable square footage calculations. The group, which wants the district to consider a lower tax, believes the district could tax religious schools and businesses renting property from the city and the Navy, something Superintendent Kirsten Vital said the district would investigate.

Next Tuesday, district officials are set to unveil a preliminary list of tiered cuts for the school board to consider over the next two years. Those items could be restored if a fresh parcel tax is passed.

Another public hearing on the district’s parcel tax plans is scheduled for October 14 at Amelia Earhart Elementary School. The board is slated to consider a tax proposal on November 9 and make a decision on November 23.

9 Comments »

  • Chrisy says:

    Yessssss, a measure based on sq. footage…..more fair. I know have wait until the final print–still a long way to go–but so far–Yippee!!

  • David Howard says:

    With the recession officially declared “over,” now is a great time to be asking the voters for more money…

    All joking aside…

    Alamedans for Fair Taxation recognizes that the schools need a parcel tax and are prepared to support one that is fair in their eyes. For example, one that doesn’t leave the Alameda Towne Center paying 1/2 cent per square foot on 1.7 mil. sq ft parcel, (ATC has over $100 million/year in retail sales), a small business owner on Park Street paying 15 cents, and a small business owner around the corner in the City-owned multiplex not paying at all.

    After Measure H, AFT tried to work with the District to structure Measure E without what they see as inequities. The District, apparently, wasn’t listening.

    In the wake of Measure E, AFT is again working to influence the District into a structure that is fair for everyone. To that end, they have painstakingly constructed a spreadsheet consisting of almost 20,000 parcels in Alameda, listing their parcel number, their address, lot sq ft. size and improvements sq ft size. That file is public, for everyone to look at, and check/see how big their lot size is. The data came from the County. (I sent Michele the link to the file. Not sure why she didn’t post the file or the link.)

    Add up the 154 million sq ft in the file – which consists of land and condominium sq footage – with the tens of millions of sq ft of land at Alameda Point which could be taxed, and City-owned land in Alameda, like the Theater complex, and it’s fair to say there is at least 200 million square feet of taxable land.

    There are a lot of for-profit businesses operating at Alameda Point today, occupying those huge aircraft hangers. And by the way, if the City of Alameda wants to help the school District? They can identify the lessees in all the Alameda Point and City-owned properties for the District. The School District generates the tax scroll and sends it to the County Tax Assessor – the District tells the County who to send a tax bill to, and for how much.

    The District has said there is only 104 million square feet of land, but they won’t say what they counted and didn’t count. I believe this is because they simply don’t know. They went to an outside consulting firm and asked for a report, paid a lot of money, and got a 1-page summary. AUSD does not have a detailed parcel tax file with 20,000 individual parcels in it. They have no idea how their 104 million sq ft. number was calculated.

    The file below is in Excel 2007 format. A 5,000 sq ft. lot paying according to AUSD’s model, based on just over one hundred million square feet, would pay something like $600/year (12 cents x 5,000 sq ft.)

    The same homeowner, paying based on AFT’s model, at, say, 4 cents per square foot, times 5,000 sq ft, would pay $200.

    Small condo owners at 4 cents per square foot would pay less than $100/year.

    http://www.action-alameda-news.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/Public-Parcel-File-9-20.xlsx

  • Publius says:

    Howard:

    First, the base is Federal Land. Federal land cannot be taxed, period. See: MccCulloch vs. Maryland.

    Second, your calcs are incomplete:

    The city’s own records state 304 mil total feet of land area (I got that data from city)

    -from that, subtract:

    -parks 212 acres, 9.234 mil feet (per city staff)

    -golf 328 acres, 14.287 mil ft (per city staff)

    -college 59 acres, 2.57 mil feet (wiki)

    -Navy Base 1560 acres, 67.953 mil feet (wiki)

    We’re down to approx 210 mil feet before streets. The city has 153 miles of streets, 140 outside the base. Remember that the city portion of streets includes sidewalks. If one assumes an average 40 foot width from sidewalk to sidewalk (typical for most residential areas) those 140 miles equal 29.568 mil feet and that is a low estimate due to the significant mileage of 4 lane streets, wider streets in commercial zones, etc, but even with the lowball, it’s still down to approx 180 mil feet and that does not include the following:

    -AUSD land (they can’t tax themselves)
    -other city land besides those mentioned
    -Alameda Landing and FISC, owned by CIC
    -Federal property (Mckay St campus, Coast Guard Island, Coast Guard housing etc)
    -State of CA land
    -EB Parks
    -Church & other religion lands
    -Alameda Hospital
    -other non-profits

    All this adds up to the district’s claim starting to look very accurate, a helluva lot more accurate than yours. And in any case, the district doesn’t determine what is taxable, the AC Assessor does and the 104MM figure comes from them.

    Third, possesory interest only occurs when lessee gains some of the benefits of ownership, such as ability to remodel & rebuild, transfer or assign lease, etc. It is highly doubtful that city leases to business would qualify. The 1 yr duration of navy base leases would immediately disqualify.

  • David Howard says:

    Publius – i was told not to do top down but bottoms up. That spreadsheet reflects bottoms up. Where is the districts detailed spreadsheet? What exactly does their number include? Ausd hired a consultant to produce that number and they have no idea what’s in that number.

    Also, religious schools are exempt from ad valorem taxes, but not special fees. So ausd and the county confirmed for me.

    As for alameda point, it’s long overdue to give those tenants long term leases. The county also confirmed that the district gives them the tax scrolls

  • Publius says:

    I do not know where the district’s spreadsheet is, nor do I care, because it is obvious your 200 mil estimate is indisputably wrong.

  • David Howard says:

    Publius,

    You must be some kind of anti-tax, libertarian tea-partier that is opposed to any tax to support the schools. Otherwise, you would have a more positive reaction to AFT’s effort to come up with a tax structure that will work, and pass at the polls.

    AFT, and myself, have done more research on this issue in the past 2 months than AUSD has done on it in the past year.

    I confirmed last night with AFT – their spreadsheet does not include city and AUSD owned land. That’s why the use codes have been so important.

    Here’s one example – AUSD admitted that they have made discretionary decisions in the past on parcel taxes to give exemptions to property owned by the Catholic Diocese. Religious schools are exempt from ad valorem property taxes, but not, as evidenced by what the County told me, and the tax bills available online and reproduced at the link below, from other fees, like parcel taxes, sewer service charges, mosquito abatement, etc.

    http://www.action-alameda-news.com/2010/07/26/exemption-quirks-mean-religious-schools-certain-businesses-dont-pay-school-parcel-taxes/

  • Publius says:

    I know BS when I see it. Your 200 mil (or more) claim simply doesn’t hold water. Adding back in the miniscule amount for Catholic schools doesn’t change that. How much you may have worked on it immaterial, it’s just plain wrong.

    Now I don’t have the accurate number, but notice that I’m not running around town claiming that I do. Among the many differences between us, two of the principal ones are accuracy & forethought.

  • Alamama says:

    Since Mr. Howard and AFT seem to be so certain about their numbers, then I’m sure they will be willing to make up the difference in tax revenue if their numbers turn out to be wrong. Personally, I’d rather rely on conservative numbers generated by professionals, but if they’re willing to put several million of their own dollars on the line and show that they have the ability to make good on any revenue losses caused by their errors, then they can have at it.
    Perhaps they could post a bond.

  • Mike says:

    To save our city some money, maybe we should look at cutting the City Manager’s compensation…$285,000/year!

    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/09/23/BAEP1FI33V.DTL

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