Jan 22 2012

OPINION: Tax Review Committee Member Drops Support for Measure A

Additional information prompts switch –

The Piedmont Municipal Tax Review Committee recommended a “Yes” vote on Measure A, the Sewer Surcharge Tax. New information, however, has led one of the two members of the Sewer Tax Subcommittee to recommend voting “No” on  Measure A.



Piedmont is an excellent example of citizen volunteers playing active roles in City government. Volunteers place an inordinate amount of faith and trust in professional Staff that manages the city operations on a day-to-day basis.  Like all committees, the 2011 Piedmont Municipal Tax Review Committee relied on guidance from Staff. Over a period of less than six months 9 residents analyzed Piedmont’s finances and submitted a unanimous report to the City Council on the need to raise a parcel tax and sewer tax, and recommended a number of financial and operating reforms.

The Committee received detailed staff reports and materials on the question of a sewer tax. Some materials were previously presented to the City Council. We were briefed on a single final enforceable plan for sewer maintenance and replacement that was ‘required’ in order to ensure the City’s compliance with a Federal Court Stipulated Order and an EPA Administrative Order.
The two-member sewer sub-committee and the entire MTRC then considered the proposed tax, including: term, placing a cap on the tax, and leasing options for large items like the nearly $500,000 vactor truck.

We recommended a 50% sewer surcharge for the February ballot. Had we declined to recommend a surcharge, the Council would have likely still proceeded with the Staff plans.
Subsequently a number of residents raised questions about the sewer tax and the use of funds. Rick Schiller and Tom Clark, a former Port of Oakland attorney, reviewed the legal orders and documents.  They discovered that there is no EPA order requiring mainline replacement, nor is there a stipulation for penalties to be assessed against Piedmont for failure to replace or repair a certain length of pipe each year.

Rick and Tom made strong statements. I know them to be reasonable people who take a keen interest in Piedmont’s activities. They ascertained that any plan submitted by Piedmont to the EPA is a revisable draft. A final plan was only due to be presented to the EPA by July 15 this year. I’ve read emails from the EPA compliance officer confirming this assertion.
Today, I am not convinced that Measure A is the best plan for Piedmont. It is unfortunately the only plan that the MTRC and Council considered.

Our Council should carefully review this new information and research alternative plans.  The MTRC never considered alternative plans because we were advised that the single plan presented was the enforceable final plan. We did not contact the EPA directly.

Additional tax dollars may be required for our sewer system. However, should Measure A fail, the Council can direct the MTRC to reconvene and consider alternative options, as the EPA clearly allows. Going back to the drawing board on Measure A will win the confidence of Piedmont voters who later this year will again be called to the ballot box to vote on two additional parcel taxes.

Let’s be responsible and assess all reasonable options.   Measure A does not measure up.

Ryan Gilbert

Member of the Piedmont Municipal Tax Review Committee and Subcommittee on the Sewer Surcharge

Editor’s Note:  The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of the Piedmont Civic Association.

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