May 24 2016

OPINION: Check the Facts and Vote NO on Measure F

Councilmembers Wieler and McBain accuse Measure F opponents of misrepresenting the facts and direct voters go to the city website for more information.

We encourage voters to do so as well, and we provide the following references to help voters learn the facts.  We summarize Wieler and McBain’s arguments and hope voters will visit the links to determine what information is accurate.

1.    Wieler and McBain claim that the 2007, 2011 Municipal Tax Review Committee (MTRC)and 2015 Budget Advisory and Financial Planning Committee (BAFPC) recommend that the City establish reserves.  True. But MTRC 2007 and 2011 did not advocate for a tax increase like the BAFPC does.  Rather these committees recommend spending controls – 2007 MTRC proposed a trigger mechanism to NOT levy the parcel tax based on property and transfer tax revenues (, p.46) and the 2011 MTRC proposed a cap on employee benefit levels (, p.6).
Rather than propose to raise taxes, these committees saw that the City could budget conservatively and put away reserves when the real estate market was good.  Since 2012, Council has followed this sound advice by transferring $3M to the facility maintenance fund.
2.    Wieler and McBain claim the recommendations of the 2011 MTRC have been accomplished.  False.  The MTRC recommended a cap of employee benefit levels (pension and health benefits), a “mission critical” analysis of City services and staffing levels and establishment of a facility maintenance fund (, p. 7, 28, 42). Since 2013, the City has reduced the growth rate of its annual pension payments by requiring that employees share increases in CalPERS rates.   To cap health benefits, the 2015 BAFPC proposes a “cafeteria” benefits plan (, p.5). Council has yet to act on that. The facility maintenance fund has been established and $1M has been spent on projects like electrical upgrades and there’s $2M in reserve for leaky roofs  (, p.7).  The analysis of City services and staffing levels has not been undertaken.
3.    Wieler and McBain claim the cafeteria benefits plan is “irrelevant”.  False.  Adoption of such a plan for City employees is recommended by the 2015 BAFPC (2015 BAFPC, p.5) and the substantial savings that would be achieved are documented in the report. Wieler and McBain claim such savings will help control personnel costs but can’t be used for facility maintenance; this assertion ignores the fungible characteristic of the City budget. Annual savings in employee benefits costs will be available for transfer to facility and equipment reserves – this is in part how the current facility maintenance fund has grown to $2M.  The current contract with city employees expires in June 2017 and now is the time for Council to adopt the cafeteria plan in the next contract.
4.    Wieler and McBain claim the Athletic Facilities Maintenance Fund (AFMF) and SchoolMates Fund can’t be used for facility maintenance. False.  The AFMF was used for the resurfacing of Linda Beach Field and just last month $200,000 was allocated from this fund for Hampton Field maintenance (, p.5).  The SchoolMates Fund has always been used for upkeep of those buildings.
5.    Wieler and McBain claim $450K is insufficient for annual facility maintenance. False. This is the average level of facility maintenance spending determined by the 2011 MTRC and 2015 BAFPC.  Costs for long-term deferred maintenance are currently being refined by City staff (2105 BAFPC, p. 24).  When finished, there likely will be a need to allocate more funds for facility maintenance but the extent to which the parcel tax needs to be raised will depend on whether the cost saving recommendations of the MTRC and BAFPC are implemented.
6.    Wieler and McBain claim the $11M pension surplus shouldn’t be used for facility maintenance. True, but that’s a claim opponents never made (  Opponents said these funds could be used for the increasing CalPERS pension obligation that the City faces.  Instead, Wieler and McBain claim these funds should be used to pay for long-term underfunded retiree health benefits. Either way, upcoming negotiations that cap benefit levels will add to the growing surplus.
7.    Beyond our analysis of cost, we have always maintained that City revenues are more than sufficient and enjoy regional upward pressure on a continued robust revenue stream. Wieler and McBain are entirely mute on this important half of the tax equation.  The 2015 BAFPC Report (p.11) uses a 15 year time frame for the Transfer Tax, going from $2,287,982 to $3,901,252 and the Report states a 4.3% compound annual increase.  Proponents then state the erratic nature of the Property Transfer Tax yet ignore the 35 year history of the transfer tax. 1980 – 2015 the compounded annual rise is 6.45% annually.  We estimated the transfer tax in five years at $3.8 Million and we use Proponents conservative $2.8M estimate as a starting point rather than the last five-year $3.3M average.  No one can question the robust nature of the ever growing Property Tax. From 2001 to 2015 the tax grew at a compound rate of 5.1% with no down years. We estimate property tax revenue at $13.9M in five years. Proponents make no comment.
8.   Critically, Wieler and McBain fail to mention the $1.3M additional available funds coming online in 2020 when the Pension Side Fund debt ends.

Wieler and McBain accuse Measure F opponents of inaccuracies and misinformation, but voters can judge for themselves by reading the reports.  These reports call for two basic actions by City Council – the capping of benefit levels and the establishment of facility maintenance reserves.  The extent to which a parcel tax increase is needed will depend on whether the City adopts the cost-saving measures recommended by the MTRC and BAFPC. 

Garrett Keating, Former Piedmont Councilmember 

 Rick Schiller, Piedmont Resident
Editors’ Note: Opinions expressed are those of the authors.  PCA does not support or oppose ballot measures and accepts both pro and con opinions.

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