Nov 18 2012

OPINION: School Tax is Inequitable

Resident objects to proposed parcel tax structure-

November 16, 2012

Dear School Board Members:

I attended Wednesday night’s meeting and was pleased with the free exchange of decidedly held opinions about the proposed new school parcel tax.  Your decision to limit any new tax to an 8-year duration is a positive move.

Piedmont can be justifiably proud of the quality of its schools and I think that almost everyone at the meeting was strongly supportive of keeping the schools adequately funded.  I am in that group.

I was surprised that the issue of our current tax structure and its regressive nature, both addressed by my previous email to the board and expressed by others, was not included in the discussion. Although the to-be-implemented SSI exemption in the new tax is largely symbolic, it does recognize those on limited incomes which is a burden that falls disproportionately on seniors.

I think that perpetuating the inequitable and regressive method of a flat dollar amount of tax by tiered property size is wrong.  Let me demonstrate from the rates being proposed for single dwellings which will be voted upon in March 2013:


  • 0 – 4,999 sq ft                                                $2,088 per parcel
  • 5,000 – 9,999 sq ft                                          $2,372 per parcel
  • 10,000 – 14,999 sq ft                                      $2,706 per parcel
  • 15,000 – 19,999 sq ft                                      $3,107 per parcel
  • More than 20,000** sq ft                                $3,547 per parcel

(** This should read “more than 19,999 sq ft” or “20,000 sq feet or more”.  As written, 20,000 sq ft lots are technically not included.)

This means that:

  •   4,500 sq foot lots will pay $0.464 per square foot.
  •   7,500 sq foot lots will pay $0.316 per square foot.
  • 10,000 sq foot lots will pay $0.271 per square foot.
  • 12,500 sq foot lots will pay $0.217 per square foot.
  • 15,000 sq foot lots will pay $0.207 per square foot.
  • 17,500 sq foot lots will pay $0.178 per square foot.
  • 20,000 sq foot lots will pay $0.177 per square foot.

In other words, a 4,500 sq foot lot will pay 2.62 times the rate of a 20,000 sq foot lot.

As an aside, I believe that the smallest lot in Piedmont is about 2,000 sq ft and the largest is over 80,000 sq ft.  The tax rate difference between these two extremes (1.04 vs 0.04 cents) is astounding:  26 times!

I fail to see the equity in this perpetuation of the status quo.  This is nothing more than a regressive tax on the smallest sized lots in Piedmont which are most probably owned by people with a lower income base.  Why should smaller sized lots effectively subsidize much larger sized ones?

Equitability would be served if a square footage rate of between 22 and 27 cents was adopted.  I base this on a back-of-the-envelope calculation assuming a $9.5 million tax revenue target from 3,750 lots with approximately 34.4 million total square footage.

I disagree strongly with your decision to effectively not provide a full or partial voluntary senior exemption.  The age at which a homeowner is eligible for Social Security is an objective measure.  A member of the board advanced the argument that Prop 13 is the senior exemption.  It is an unwarranted assumption that everyone over 65 has paid lower property taxes because of Prop 13. Those properties with Prop 13 advantaged tax rates belong to residents who have maintained property ownership stability for more than 30 years (Prop 13 was adopted on June 6, 1978).  Is not “stability” a desired outcome of lengthening the time before school parcel taxes are submitted for a new vote? Why is it a negative when it comes to length of home ownership?

Over these 34 years, all homeowners have paid a full slate of school parcel taxes as assessed and many of these same citizens have not used the Piedmont school system while paying these taxes.  Are they now to be penalized for living here a longer time and paying more school parcel taxes than people who do not have similar residency and may pay higher property taxes?

Please don’t incent people to work against what is essentially a good thing by not adopting a more fair and equitable approach.

Thank you.

Jim McCrea, Piedmont Resident

Editors’ Note: The opinions express are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Piedmont Civic Association.

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