Jun 29 2020

OPINION: Proposed Tax Measures on November Ballot Are Not Accurate or Appropriate

Recreation projects should be separated from fire and police measures.

Because of COVID- 19, ballot measures in November will not allow for full community discussion of City projects and needs.

Letter sent to the Piedmont City Council:

Based on the survey results and the limitations to public participation brought on by the pandemic, November 2020 does not seem like an appropriate time to put these two initiatives on the ballot, especially the facilities matter.

Every indication suggests a second wave of the pandemic will occur in the fall and these questions should not be put before Piedmonters under constraint.   “Robust resident education will be needed” – that will be a very difficult undertaking during the pandemic and should not be rushed or forced.  The typical forums available for voter education like League of Women Voters, house parties, clubs – won’t be available or will see reduced participation.

And, if put on the ballot, can the public outreach activities staff had planned before the pandemic go forward – it gives the appearance of city staff campaigning for the ballot.  Council should do as it did with the public safety contracts – postpone these ballot questions until more normal conditions return. Two years from now has the added advantage that three council seats – a majority – will be up for election, allowing for the community to send a clear signal of whether it supports these initiatives.

The polling results indicate that well over 60% of Piedmonters consider facilities as excellent, good or average.  The City Administrator concluded that Piedmonters do not clearly understand their facility needs but is that true?  Piedmonters are familiar with the facilities they use and see – recreation and park facilities – and not with the ones they don’t – the police and fire buildings.  The polling results indicate that most Piedmonters like what they see and it’s really up to the city to explain why these facilities need replacement.  Piedmonters understand the maintenance issue with the pool – it has been studied and discussed for years.  The proposals for the pool, Linda Beach and Coaches are for replacement, not maintenance, and looked at this way, the results could indicate that residents do not want these replacements.  To determine if that is the case, it would be better to have the public safety facilities and recreation facilities presented as separate ballot initiatives.

Finally, at a Budget Advisory and Financial Planning Committee (BAFPC) meeting I attended, the Assistant City Manager/City Clerk indicated that General Obligation bonds might require two votes under the City Charter. The BAFPC suggested a way to avoid two votes would be to establish a Community Facilities District (CFD). I think the staff report is inaccurate when it states the BAFPC “favored” CFD bonds, though it did support a parcel-based tax assessment compared to an ad valorem one:

“The Committee recommends pursuing a parcel-based tax assessment. This is preferable to an ad valorem tax given that the facilities to be funded include primarily (or potentially exclusively) essential public services buildings benefiting all Piedmont residents.”

I think it is inaccurate to conclude that the facilities to be funded are primarily “essential public services”.  While I’ve enjoyed the recreation facilities in Piedmont, it is clear that not all residents utilize these facilities, especially so over the next 30 years as Piedmont “ages in place”.  Police and Fire are, of course, essential, so again, consider placing the public safety facilities and recreation facilities on separate ballot initiatives.

Garrett Keating, Former Member of Piedmont City Council

3 Responses to “OPINION: Proposed Tax Measures on November Ballot Are Not Accurate or Appropriate”

  1. Regarding the survey, I would be interested in knowing how many people in Piedmont were sent surveys via email and secondly how many surveys were completed. I did receive and respond to the survey, but discovered many people I spoke to had not received it. Saying 60% of Piedmonters think facilities are excellent, good or average may be a meaningless statement. I heartily endorse the suggestion that recreation facilities financing be separated from essential services financing.

  2. I agree that issues dealing with public safety be considered separately from recreational facilities; i.e. for all Piedmont citizens vs. a portion of the residents.

  3. The staff report seemed to recommend the community facilities district over general obligation bonds as the financial vehicle because the district could use a more equitable parcel tax, whereas the general obligations bonds would require an ad valorem tax. But at a BAFPC meeting I attended, it was stated that general bonds could be issued if linked to a sufficient parcel tax. For example, were the sewer tax, a parcel tax, to be renamed the facilities replacement tax, would that be sufficient to issue bonds? That analysis was not done at BAFPC.

    There are political advantages to linking recreation to public safety – coattails. Recall stand alone High school theater didn’t pass, but when linked to a new STEM building, the initiative passed overwhelmingly.

    It would be sensible to separate the recreation and public safety initiatives on the ballot.

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