May 13 2015

OPINION: School Tax Based on Building Square Footage Would Be a Uniform Rate Tax

May 13, 2015                                                        

The Piedmont School District’s attorney stated that by the Boricas decision the only uniform rate tax permitted was a flat rate on every parcel. This is the most regressive possible tax structure. The Piedmont School Support Tax is by far the most expensive in the state and is more than double to one hundred times higher than any other school tax. The high expense, flat rate and lack of a low income based senior exemption means the Piedmont tax is financially difficult for many young families, the less affluent, and those on a fixed income. The previous tiered tax structure was somewhat progressive, but every legal opinion states the tiered structure is illegal, as it taxes the same square foot differently for each tier, and is not a uniform rate by the Boricas decision.

On June 5, 2003 the Emery Unified School District (“USD” Emeryville) passed a School support tax based solely on square foot per building. Renewed in 2007 and 2009, the tax was up for renewal again in 2014. Emery USD relied on their highly regarded legal counsel of Fagan, Friedman, Fulfrost, LLP; yes, this is the same law firm used by Piedmont USD. To be as secure from litigation as possible, Emery USD also sought legal review from Attorney Harold Frieman of Lozano, Smith, an expert in school tax challenges and Boricas. He is familiar to many, as the City of Piedmont used Mr. Frieman’s services creating the PRFO Blair Park EIR.

Confident in the legal advice they received from two sources, the Emeryville Board placed the renewal of their building square footage tax on the November 7, 2014 ballot. Measure K passed with 86% approval and imposes “fifteen cents of building area per square foot” for 20 years. Significantly, no one including Boricas attorney David Brilliant has legally challenged any of the per square foot taxes of Emery USD. Mr. Brilliant filed a number of other lawsuits against School Districts after his successful Boricas litigation. All suits filed by Mr. Brilliant are on behalf of commercial property owners and concern non-uniform taxation; the Emeryville tax is a single uniform rate for all. The many Emeryville commercial businesses have large school tax bills and ample legal budgets, yet no lawsuit is filed.

No emergency existed that forced the Piedmont Unified School District to levy the most regressive tax in the state with a mere 24 hour notice when the existing tax had 18 months to run. At taxpayer expense, the District issued a letter stating 30% of teachers would be let go if the tax didn’t pass; this fear tactic was patently false considering the time remained on the existing tax. At the same time in Emeryville, a progressive per square foot tax happily existed unchallenged, a tax reviewed by the same law firm that the Piedmont District uses.

Perhaps our School Board was not given complete information, or another agenda was in place, or the legal landscape has firmed up concerning Borikas. Regardless, the regret expressed by some Board members about imposing the very regressive Piedmont tax can now be corrected with a per square foot of building tax.

Rick Schiller, taxpayer

Editors’ Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.

One Response to “OPINION: School Tax Based on Building Square Footage Would Be a Uniform Rate Tax”

  1. Something must be done! Eventually, this ever spiraling regressive tax will drive some of us, on fixed incomes, out of Piedmont.

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