Feb 6 2016

OPINION: School Parcel Tax Implementation Questioned

Is the Piedmont School District Following the Law?

For the third consecutive year, the Alameda County Auditor has unlawfully exempted dozens of otherwise taxable parcels from paying the Piedmont School Support Tax (Measure A), resulting in a loss to date of over $400,000 in District revenue.  Over the eight-year life of Measure A, the District’s loss will be more than one million dollars at a time of costly pension obligations and the apparent need for major facility improvements.

This needless loss should not have been allowed to happen.

Measure A (mistakenly called “School Measure B” on tax bills) required that as of July 1, 2013, each assessor’s parcel wholly or partially within the boundaries of the District pay the annual school tax, now at $2,503 per parcel. The one and only exception was for owners of parcels receiving Social Security Income (SSI). The District’s own attorney has said all other exemptions are “forbidden”. 

Measure A is a special assessment not based on the assessed value of the property. Hence, the Auditor and not the Assessor made the exemptions, most as a continuation of past practices but seven have been made since the passage of Measure A. One tiny sliver of unimproved land on my street has been routinely exempted for over 25 years. Many are small parcels ancillary to a larger parcel that have been exempted by owners in order to avoid paying the tax twice. A few are church parcels, exempt from the ad valorem portion but not the special assessment portion of their tax bills. And, ten are Oakland lots partially in Piedmont (including Mount View Cemetery) that have never been taxed.

Failure of the District to collect the tax from Oakland parcels may be a simple matter of negligence.  But allowing the Piedmont exemptions to continue and even grow over three years is inexplicable.

To date, no one has taken responsibility. The Auditor’s office said the current exemptions are based on a list provided by NBS, the tax-consulting firm retained by the District. NBS has said it has taken no action, formal or informal, to exempt any parcel. The District has said it has taken no action to selectively exempt property from its parcel tax, except for the two parcels that qualified for the SSI exemption. 

Whoever is responsible, there has been an appalling breakdown of communication between the District, NBS, and Alameda County. The Auditor correctly applied the uniform tax rate of Measure A to every Piedmont parcel except for those on the list provided by NBS. Over a period of three years, he has evidently not been told these exemptions are illegal.

The Measure A Resolution “authorized members of the Board, the Superintendent and officers of the District to do all things necessary or advisable to effectuate the purposes of the Resolution.” Although the District staff was apprised of the problem more than six months ago, it has yet to recommend the actions necessary to rescind the unlawful exemptions — and in the process enhance the school’s revenue.

Measure A is the law and every public official, appointed or elected, must obey the law, however onerous that may be.

William Blackwell, Piedmont Resident

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

2 Responses to “OPINION: School Parcel Tax Implementation Questioned”

  1. If this is so, NBS should have errors and omissions insurance that can help make up the School District’s loss of funds. A simple letter to their insurance company should prompt full reimbursement up to policy limits.

  2. Mr. Miller raises an interesting point; however, NBS operates solely on instruction from the District so I wonder if Errors and Omissions are defining here? The bigger issue is that the District informed voters in a dramatic emergency session that because of the Boricas decision all parcels must be taxed and taxed the same rate. All parcels are not taxed.

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