Jan 6 2012

OPINION: Resident Finds Problems with Sewer Tax Measure

Vote No on Piedmont Measure A Sewer Surtax – 

At a Councilmember’s request, I read 2009 and 2011 federal court orders to determine
if they require the City of Piedmont to replace the remainder of its sewer mainlines.  I
also read the Municipal Tax Review Committee (MTRC) Report, the Council’s new
sewer surtax ordinance, various relevant EPA and Water Board documents and the Voter
Information Pamphlet section on Measure A.

For the first time since I moved to Piedmont 39 years ago, but I now suspect not for the
last time, I will vote no on a city tax measure, because I am compelled to vote no by a
decent regard for honest and open government, as I explain below.

The MTRC Report and the arguments in favor of Measure A in the voter pamphlet
expressly support the Measure A sewer tax on the asserted basis that the City must
not only comply with the 2011 federal court order, but also must comply with an
asserted “EPA Order” to remain on the city leadership’s ambitious schedule to replace
100% of the city’s sewer mainlines before 2020.  The former is true.  The latter is false.
This is not a matter of opinion, but a matter of fact.

The asserted “EPA Order” does not exist, and there is no other order by any
governmental agency that requires any additional rehabilitation.  In EPA’s own written
words, it does not “not specify a deadline by which Piedmont must complete the mainline
sewer replacement work, nor is there a stipulation for penalties to be assessed against
Piedmont if they fail to replace or repair a certain length of pipe each year…”

The only order ever to require replacement of Piedmont’s mainlines was issued by the
Regional Water Board in 1993 and was fully complied with by 2005, 9 years ahead of the
deadline.  Voluntary city replacement of the last 40% of the lines obviously may legally
extend beyond 2020, to whatever date is consistent with the existing sewer tax.

Moreover, according to the MTRC Report the cost to comply with the new 2011 federal
court order over the 12-year period 2010-11 through 2021-22 is about $5.5 million.
Inexplicably, the MTRC and Council support a surtax that authorizes $11 million of new
tax revenues during this same period, twice as much as needed even if the false premise
that complete mainline replacement is required were true.

The Council on October 3 passed Ordinance 699 N.S. to implement the surtax, but
included express language that allows the tax to be diverted to storm drain purposes, not
the sewer purposes for which the surtax is supposedly needed.

Neither the MTRC nor the City publicly disclosed or discussed any alternatives to
the surtax, such as the alternative of no surtax and a slight delay in the non-required
completion of replacement of the mains instead of a new tax (on top of the up to $20,000
the Council has recently required most homeowners pay to replace their home sewer
laterals), or a lesser tax that does not authorize twice the new taxes necessary even
without the delay.  The present sewer tax generates well over $2 million a year, more
than enough to pay both cost of compliance with every existing governmental order
applicable to the city’s sewer system and the voluntary replacement of the remaining
sewer mains.

City management, the Council and the MTRC have failed their fiduciary obligations to
the residents of Piedmont to be diligent, honest, open and prudent. Vote No on Measure A.

Thomas D. Clark

Piedmont Resident

Editors Note: The opinions expressed are those of the writer and not necessarily those of PCA.

One Response to “OPINION: Resident Finds Problems with Sewer Tax Measure”

  1. Dear Thomas D. Clark,

    After reading your detailed and cogent letter, as well as listening to Rick Schiller debate Michael Rancer at the League’s “Meet the Candidates Night,” in the City Hall Chambers on 1/12, it’s disheartening that the essential reasons behind the proposed sewer tax, Measure A, may not be discussed more fully.

    At issue is the reality that Piedmont, along with many cities in CA, is facing reduced incoming revenues with increased financial obligations. And it’s unfortunate that Piedmont, like many cities, is choosing a back-door way of raising money for the General Fund, such as Measure A, instead of openly discussing ways to increase the city’s coffers.


    Denise Bostrom

Leave a Comment