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CO$T's Voting Guidance for Local Tax Measures on the June 7, 2022 Ballot


CO$T VOTER DECISION GUIDE


Measure A: Parks, Open Space, and Farmland Preservation ¼ Cent Sales Tax (renewing 2012 Measure A sales tax that expired March 31, 2022)


CO$T has decided neither to endorse nor oppose this tax measure. We are troubled by certain features of this tax but we know how important the use and enjoyment of Marin’s parks and open space are to Marin residents.

Pros:

1. The Sales Tax Funds Many Popular Programs. The proposed 2022 sales tax, with a term of 9 years, will raise $16MM per year (over half of the Parks Department’s annual budget). The proceeds fund park and open space maintenance, local municipal parks, acquisition of open space parcels, and grants to private agricultural owners. If the tax is not renewed some of these programs might be reduced or eliminated.

2. More Fire Fuel Reduction. CO$T worked with Parks’ staff and a number of elected officials to persuade them to add $500,000 to the previous $2 million annual budget for vegetation management. Our even greater success was in negotiating new ballot measure language to ensure that this total $2.5 MM (or more) will be dedicated to fire-fuel reduction with “boots on the ground” work crews. Under the previous Measure A, Parks were spending only $2MM a year on an unrestricted bundle of vegetation management projects. Much of the money was spent for native-species preservation or it was allocated to staff overhead costs. CO$T views this new focus on wildfire with its increased budget and commitment to real fuel reduction as a step in the right direction that we fought hard to achieve.

Cons:

1) Unfair and Regressive. CO$T objects to sales taxes on the general principle that they are regressive.

2) Special Interests Benefit. One major concern is that a full 20% of the tax proceeds goes to agricultural grants and programs that occur almost entirely on private property to which the public has little to no access. This runs counter to the principles of fairness, equity and inclusiveness. Public surveys showed low enthusiasm for using the parks tax to support private agriculture, while rating Open Space fire fuel reduction (which will receive less money) as the most urgent priority. Moreover, the agricultural grants program has been notoriously scandal plagued by self-dealing.

3) Fire Fuel Reduction Funding is Insufficient. CO$T considers the $500,000 increase to $2.5 million as significantly less money than is needed to address the deadly accumulation of fire fuel in our Open Space. CO$T and Marin’s Fire Chiefs had requested a $5MM (33% of the total budget) annual allocation. Parks staff had also recommended a bigger step-up in fire fuel funding, by redirecting allocations away from the agricultural grants program. However, the Board of Supervisors rejected that proposal in order to protect the grants to politically influential private farmland owners.

4) Increase in Current Sales Tax. The old Measure A ¼ cent sales tax has now expired in March 2022. Voter approval of Measure A “renewal” will actually increase the sales taxes you currently pay by ¼ cent.


CO$T Opposes Larkspur Corte Madera Parcel Tax Measure E


The Larkspur Corte Madera School District has on the June 7, 2022 ballot a proposed parcel tax, Measure E. It is a 10-year tax effective July 1, 2022. Starting at $910 per property, this tax increases every year by 5%. If Measure E passes, it will immediately replace a similar 5% parcel tax that is currently set to expire on June 30, 2024.

CO$T opposes the tax for these reasons:

1) At 5 percent, the escalator would be the 2nd highest in the county, with 12 out of 15 other school districts at 3 percent or lower. At the end of the tenth year, it will reach $1,412, an increase of 63% from the fiscal year 2021-2022. Total payments over the 10 years will be $12,317 (nearly $1,200 more than with a 3% annual escalator).

2) Student population in the district has declined significantly in the past two years, but staffing hasn’t. Three-quarters of the student loss stems from families who moved out of the area. Without any visibility of a reversal of the enrollment downtrend – which is occurring statewide – staff downsizing would be appropriate.

3) Ten years is a long time, and exceeds the forecast horizon for enrollment, revenues, and expenses. LCM educates elementary and middle school children. Many or most of the students being educated by the LCM district 10 years from now haven’t been born yet. It’s impossible to forecast how many there will be. CO$T believes that the term of any tax measure should align with the demonstrated need.

4) This a difficult time for taxpayers to shoulder a large tax bill that increases rapidly for a decade. Many residents are already struggling to absorb the recent surge in living expenses. In the face of high economic uncertainty regarding inflation, employment, and recession, now is an appropriate moment to pause and assess.

5) LCM’s “flat” parcel tax is unfair to small property owners. Under Measure E, a studio condo owner pays the same annual dollar amount as a mansion, a mall, or a large apartment complex. This is unfair. CO$T advocates instead a school parcel tax tied to each building’s square footage or number of dwelling units.

6) As the current parcel tax does not expire until June 30, 2024, the district should come back to voters when there’s better clarity on the need (tied to enrollment) and economic backdrop. The current parcel tax will continue to support the district for another two years.


CO$T’s Position on San Rafael School Bond Measures B and C:


No Recommendation: Voters Should Decide based on these Considerations

Necessity: CO$T believes the proposed two San Rafael City Schools bond measures meet our criterion of necessity. The facilities are outdated; classroom sizes and bathrooms violate state standards; and classrooms, recreational facilities, ventilation and roofs need modernization.

Un-Affordability: COST’s primary concern with these bond measures is that they will be unaffordable to some property owners who are already overburdened by San Rafael’s steady stream of additional tax measures. This is particularly problematic for the elderly, disabled and lower income residents, as there are NO EXEMPTIONS or discounts for bond measures.

We recommend voters consider the above key factors, together with the more detailed analysis below, and make up their own minds whether to approve or reject these bond measures.

Facts You Need to Know:

These are two separate measures, each of which would add to property owner’s annual tax bill roughly $30 per $100,000 of assessed property value. For a $1 million assessed value home (check your property tax bill for your own assessed value), the two measures would add an initial amount of $600 per year, rising with the assessed value over the 25-year bond term.

Measure B would tax voters for the interest and principal for issuing $152 million in bonds to upgrade SRCS City’s elementary schools; the $216 million proposed Measure C bonds would fund high school facility improvements. Taxpayers in the Miller Creek district will pay for only the high school bonds, as they live in an independent elementary school district.

SRCS district voters approved a pair of school bond measures, measures A and B, in November 2015. The elementary school measure generated $108 million to upgrade buildings and improve classrooms; the high school measure resulted in $161 million. District voters also approved Measures G and H school parcel taxes in 2021. That money funds school academic programs and teachers and does not pay for facility upgrades.

A consultant report commissioned by SRCS shows the city’s high schools are near capacity but system-wide enrollment should fall over the next 10 years. The “moderate” demographic model suggests an 8% enrollment drop despite the addition of state-mandated transitional kindergarten and new housing.

Passage of bond measures requires only 55% voter approval (vs. 66.7% for parcel taxes).

Analysis – The Pros and Cons

In Favor of the Ballot Measures:

SRCS schools are in many ways outdated. Many of the classrooms fall short of the state’s standard of 1,350 square feet. They also lack dedicated restrooms, air conditioning and adequate playgrounds. In addition to rectifying those problems, the two bond measures cover significant catch-up improvements in many facilities and additional equipment that was not covered by the 2015 bond issues.

The June 2022 ballot measures are considered by SRCS as a necessary follow up to these earlier renovation efforts.

Against the Ballot Measures:

Homeowners are shouldering a steadily proliferating series of recent San Rafael tax measures: two 2015 school bond measures; two 2021 school parcel tax measures; and a 2020 ¼ cent sales tax increase bringing San Rafael’s rate to 9.25%, the County’s highest. The City is further contemplating a putting a property transfer tax on the November 2022 ballot.

Vulnerable elderly, disabled, and low-income citizens will struggle to pay the additional tax as there are NO exemptions.

Some of the improvements paid for by these ballot measures appear to be technology upgrades and delayed maintenance that should be ordinary operating expenses funded by existing taxes.

Could some projects — and the bond measure that funds them — be downsized in light of the forecasted enrollment drop?


CO$T’s Position on Mill Valley School District Bond Measure G


No Recommendation – Voters Should Decide based on these Considerations:

Necessity: CO$T believes the proposed Mill Valley School bond measure meets our criterion of necessity. The facilities are outdated;

Un-Affordability: CO$T’s primary concern with this bond measure is that it will be unaffordable to some property owners who are already overburdened by existing taxes, including Mill Valley’s school parcel tax ($1,250 in fy22/23, rising 5%/year). California general obligation BONDS DO NOT PROVIDE EXEMPTIONS or discounts to seniors, disabled or low-income property owners.

We recommend voters consider the above key factors, together with the more detailed analysis below, and make up their own minds whether to approve or reject these bond measures.

Facts You Need to Know:

Measure G, if approved by 55%+ of voters, would allow MVSD to issue $194 million of bonds to improve five elementary and one middle schools’ infrastructure. This 25-year tax would pay for the bonds’ interest and principal.

Measure G would add to a property owner’s annual tax bill a projected $26 per $100,000 of assessed property value. This amount could be higher or lower depending on interest rates when the bonds are issued. For the current average Mill Valley home’s assessed value of $1.15 million, the $26/$100,000 assessed value tax adds an initial amount of about $300 per year; this will rise with the assessed value over the 25-year term. Check the latest annual tax bill for an individual property’s current assessed value.

Analysis – The Pros and Cons

In Favor of the Ballot Measures:

The schools do need updating, particularly the middle school that was built in the 1970s open plan format that does not suit today’s educational needs. The schools were mostly built over 50 years ago and need significant infrastructure improvements. The comprehensive project list and large bond measure should significantly renovate all six schools.

MVSD spent more than three years developing the current bond proposal and facilities plan and including the public in the process. They intentionally waited until the economic backdrop and community consensus improved.

MVSD recently retired a school parcel tax that would have cost current taxpayers about $200/year.

Against the Ballot Measures:

Seniors and low-income residents may be reaching the limits of their ability to afford additional taxes. Bond measures like MVSD’s do not offer exemptions. Younger homeowners saved about $200 annually by having their school parcel tax retired, partially offsetting the tax impact of the bond. Seniors, by contrast, were exempt from the parcel tax, so they will feel the full brunt of the new tax if the bond measure passes.

$194 million seems like a lot. While most of the projects appear to be capital investments (e.g., new construction and major renovation), some likely are maintenance expenditures that should have been paid for out of existing operating funds or senior-exempt parcel taxes like the one recently retired.

Could some projects — and the bond measure that funds them — be downsized in light of falling student enrollment? Mill Valley’s enrollment has dropped each of the past 2 years, including a 8.5% current year decline. California expects further declines owing to out-migration and demographics.


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