FREMONT — Next month, Fremont property owners could be asked to tax themselves to provide increased vermin control service that city leaders aren't sure is needed.
The vermin-fighting Alameda County Vector Control Services District is seeking an assessment that would raise about $614,000 a year in Fremont to deal with issues that cost the city only $315 last fiscal year.
The Alameda County Board of Supervisors is expected to give the district permission to hold a mail-in election for Fremont and Emeryville property owners. The assessment, which would need to be approved by a weighted majority of the voters who return it, tentatively is scheduled to be mailed Sept. 30. It would be due back by Dec. 9.
If passed, single-family homeowners would see their annual property tax bill rise by $10, condominium owners by between $5.29 and $6.10, and commercial property owners by $10 — to as much as $200 for major shopping centers.
The assessment vote, which would require a simple majority for passage, would be structured to give greater weight to the votes of property owners who would pay higher taxes. The city of Fremont would likely be exempt from the assessment, District Director Lucia Hui said.
Because the vote wouldn't affect Fremont's budget, city leaders aren't planning to make a recommendation on the proposed assessment.
"We just want to make sure there is a proportional amount of service for our community," City Manager Fred Diaz said earlier this year.
Mayor Bob Wasserman questioned the need for the assessment and said he would likely oppose it. Councilmember Steve Cho disagreed, saying the extra service was worth $10.
Fremont, which has relatively new sewers and no port, doesn't have the rat problems found in Oakland, Deputy City Manager Melissa Stevenson Dile said.
That's one reason why in 1984, when the district was formed, Fremont — along with Emeryville — opted out of the county district. Now, 24 years later, the district wants both cities to reconsider.
The estimated $614,000 would pay for three Fremont vector control officers, their equipment and a share of a district biologist position, Hui said. The resources would provide Fremont with new services and more resources than what the city has been providing, she said.
However, it isn't clear that Fremont needs a strong vector control presence.
In 2007, Oakland accounted for 40 percent of district services, according to a district report. By comparison, Union City accounted for 3 percent and Newark, 1 percent.
Meanwhile, Fremont had just 11 vector-related calls for service from July 2007 through June 2008, according to a city report. The only cost the city incurred during that period was $315 for removing bee hives from public property, the report showed.
The report doesn't tell the entire story, Hui said. As a courtesy, the district responded to about 100 service calls from Fremont residents last year.
The district is prohibited from using tax revenue collected in Fremont to serve Oakland or other cities in the district, she said. However, if the district doesn't spend the full $614,000 in Fremont, it could apply the unused sum to its reserve fund, which Hui said has been depleted in recent years.
The district, with voter approval, raised its assessment on single-family homeowners from $5.92 to $10 a year last year. The increase — the district's first in more than a decade — helped it hire more staff but hasn't provided enough money yet to replenish its reserve.
The Board of Supervisors and the Alameda County Local Agency Formation Commission, or LAFCO, told the district last year that it should pursue annexing Fremont and Emeryville, Hui said.
Vector control handles just about every vermin issue in the county except mosquitoes and West Nile virus. It responds to complaints and performs studies on such public health threats as rats, raccoons, skunks, wasps, yellowjackets and ticks. It also handles complaints about the improper garbage disposal.
Much of the time, the district performs inspections and provides guidance for solving infestations, However, in some cases, such as sewer rats, the district does the exterminating.
In Union City, the district has relocated fowl, whose droppings can spread disease, to an area near Monterey.
Newark officials are pleased with the service.
"They are very, very responsive," City Manager John Becker said.
Whether the district would offer better service than Fremont has been providing seems to depend on the pest. When it comes to roof rats, the district — like the city — would likely give tips for trimming back tree branches that give the vermin shelter.
But if a resident has a persistent skunk problem, the district would take care of it free of charge, Hui said. The district also would bear the costs of eliminating yellow jackets' nests on private property.
If the vector control officers assigned to Fremont weren't in high demand, Hui said, they could spend more time on studies and monitoring programs.
On Sept. 9, LAFCO is scheduled to hold a hearing regarding the assessment.
Unless more than 50 percent of property owners submit their opposition in writing, the proposal for a mail-in ballot will go to the LAFCO board for approval on Sept. 11 and to the Board of Supervisors later that month, Hui said.