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School Board Changes Direction, Will Ask for 8-Year Parcel Tax

Piedmont voters will be asked to approve an eight-year extension of the school parcel tax with a 2 percent escalator clause.

Piedmont residents will most likely be voting on an eight-year extension of the school parcel tax next spring, rather than a permanent tax, in large part because potential voters peppered school board members with emails and comments opposing an "evergreen" tax. The tax would include a provision for an annual increase of up to 2 percent.

The decision to aim for an eight-year tax term came at the Wednesday night meeting of the Piedmont Unified School District's Board of Education. It marked a change in direction for board members, who last month said they favored asking voters to make the "school support tax" permanent, with no end date.

Previously the school parcel tax has traditionally had a four-year term. 

The final wording of what's tentatively dubbed Measure A will be voted on at a special school board meeting on Nov. 28. It will include an eight-year term at the current "authorized" rate (which could include an increase of up to 5 percent over what Piedmont property owners are currently paying), and could be increased annually by up to 2 percent by the board.

The measure is also expected to include an exemption for very low income Piedmont residents, based on eligibility standards for the federal SSI program (about $1,066 in monthly income for a couple and $710 for an individual). Board members rejected the idea of a full or partial senior citizen exemption based solely on age.

It would also change the structure of the a citizens' oversight committee to serve as watchdogs of school parcel tax spending. Currently the oversight committee is freestanding, with members appointed by the school board. Under the new measure, the oversight group would be a subcommittee of the district's Budget Advisory Committee — although still appointed by the board.

The measure will come before voters in a special election on March 5, 2013.

Board members Wednesday cited the large volume of email they received from local residents and the number of meetings with various citizens' groups since the Oct. 24 board meeting. At that session board members mainly favored a permanent tax, with either no annual increases or a 2 percent yearly increase option.

"My position has evolved since our last meeting," board member Ray Gadbois said Wednesday night. "Then I favored an evergreen tax with a 2 percent escalator. Now I think that's too much to ask of the community."

Among the groups opposing a permanent tax is the League of Women Voters of Piedmont, which has publicly favored a term of no more than eight years.

The board's shift appeared to catch members of the parcel tax campaign committee by surprise. A presentation by a half dozen committee members (before school board members stated their positions) largely assumed that voters would be asked to approve a permanent tax.

Several members of the public spoke in favor of an evergreen tax at Wednesday's meeting, while others opposed it or asked the board to include a full or partial exemption for senior citizens, who are often living on fixed incomes.

"Prop 13 is a senior citizen exemption," responded board member Roy Tolles, referring to the state proposition that limits property tax increases for longtime home owners.

Wednesday night's liveliest moment came when local resident Eva Dennis addressed the board for what she said was the first time during the 60 yeas she has lived in Piedmont.

"I'm really angry," she told board members. "It's time people are entitled to a break. Proposition 30 and Measure Y are enough of a burden on taxpayers.

"Piedmont is a city of entitlement that's gotten out of control. A public school that's trying to act like a private school. My tax dollars have afforded you much. If you want more, pay for it yourselves. I have no ability to increase my earnings."

Dennis said she attended Piedmont public schools from kindergarten through high school.

[Editor's note: I didn't have the opportunity to ask Dennis for the correct spelling of her name. If it's incorrect in this article, please let me know at dixie.jordan@patch.com and I'll correct it.]

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Tom Zhang November 15, 2012 at 06:59 PM
Considering the national sentiment about tax hike right now and we just passed measure Y, I think it will be a other debate in town. I hope most people will support the school as usual because that is the bone of our community.
Tim Rood November 15, 2012 at 08:20 PM
I'm very encouraged that the Board decided to do an 8-year rather than permanent tax. This move should ensure broad community support for renewal, while neutralizing objections from those, including LWV, who are opposed in principle to permanent taxes (especially with escalators).
Jim McCrea November 15, 2012 at 08:54 PM
I am 72 and have lived in Piedmont since 1978. I have paid school parcel taxes for as long as they have been levied during my residency. I have no children and have not used any of the schools at any time. I do not see the connection between Prop 13 and school parcel taxes. Am I supposed to believe that I should be discounted because of my residency stability - stability being a desired outcome of the extension of the duration of the new parcel tax? The basis for determining who will pay what tax is also inequitable. A lot of 4,999 sq feet will pay a per sq foot tax of 41.8 cents, which is 2.36 times higher than that for a 20,000 sq ft lot (17.7 cents). This is a regressive tax on the smaller lot owners who, most likely, are also lower income owners.
Hope Salzer November 15, 2012 at 10:52 PM
Dear Mr. McCrea and Ms. Dennis, 1) There is a direct, incontrovertible connection bet/ Prop 13 and School parcel taxes. School parcel taxes were non-existent prior to the passage of Prop 13 when the state annually levied a 2% property tax based on a property's current market value. After Prop 13 the property tax rate was reduced by HALF (to 1%) and so Districts began to levy parcel taxes to retain decent schools. Prop 13 then limited the increase in market value assessment to a max of 2% per year which has resulted in a further reduction of the property tax collections over the 35 years since Prop 13 was passed. This is the case for residential as well as commercial property. If property taxes were still collected 'ad valorem' meaning based on the market value of each property, then we would possibly not need an incremental school parcel tax in Piedmont. 2) I'm afraid that calling Piedmont public schools 'entitled' and 'trying to act like a private school' reflects a level of inaccuracy and ignorance in regard to current-day funding and educational programmatic realities that is astonishing.
nancy Menke November 16, 2012 at 08:06 PM
Property taxes go to the FULL sales price of every home upon a sale.

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