If you live in one of Alameda County's 14 cities and vote "yes" June 3 on the Measure F utility users' tax, it won't cost you a dime.

But it could cost folks in areas such as Ashland, Castro Valley, Cherryland, Fairview, San Lorenzo and Sunol a lot more then they are paying now.

That's because the tax — if it receives a countywide majority vote of at least 50 percent plus one — only is paid by utility users in unincorporated areas.

Tax proceeds now top $9 million a year, and go toward law enforcement, libraries and planning services in unincorporated communities. Seven of the county's 14 cities have separate utility users' taxes.

However, if Measure F fails and the current tax expires in June 2009, the fallout may be felt from the Bay to the valley.

"If it loses, we would make countywide reductions," county budget analyst Ken Gross said last week. Unincorporated areas wouldn't lose all the services the tax now subsidizes, he added.

The current surcharge of 5.5 percent on gas, electric, telephone and cell phone bills is expected to bring in $9.7 million this year.

County officials hope to raise an additional $1.5 million to $2.5 million per year in the future, because Measure F increases the tax to 6.5 percent through 2021 and adds video and cable television to the types of taxable services for utility users who live, own property, operate most businesses or have accounts billed in unincorporated communities.


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During a Wednesday unincorporated services committee meeting in San Lorenzo, Fairmont Terrace resident Richard Hancocks testified to the importance of renewing the utility tax.

"The funds are essential," he said. "It's not a new tax; it has to be continued. It's a reasonable way of raising funding."

Opponents contended the tax should not be placed on an at-large county ballot. John Roberts of San Lorenzo maintained that the tax is undemocratic, and should only be on ballots in unincorporated areas.

"People who are not getting taxed are imposing the burden on us who are," Roberts said.

County supervisors initially adopted a four-year tax, which first was imposed in March 1993. Supervisors placed it on the November 1996 ballot because of a state Supreme Court decision that required voter approval for such taxes. The tax was approved by voters countywide in 1996 and 2000.

County and state attorneys decided all supervisory constituents must vote on the tax, because supervisors levied it.

A vote countywide requires only majority approval. Two-thirds voter approval would be required if a special tax district was created for unincorporated areas.

"If the vote is just here, it will fail," Supervisor Nate Miley insisted, referring to unincorporated areas.

In 2000, when the tax last was renewed, approval was 73 percent countywide, but just 57 percent in unincorporated areas.

Karen Holzmeister can be reached at 510-293-2478 or kholzmeister@bayareanewsgroup.com.

Infobox1
Tax facts:
Alameda County's 2007-08 budget now has the following utility tax expenditures:
Sheriff's department, $5.5 million
Libraries, $2.2 million
Community development, $1.3 million
Current city and county utility tax rates:
In Alameda County, seven of the 14 cities have utility users' taxes.
Alameda, 7.5 percent
Albany, 7 percent
Berkeley, 7.5 percent
Emeryville, 5.5 percent
Oakland, 7.5 percent
Piedmont, 7.5 percent
San Leandro, 6 percent
Alameda County, currently 5.5 percent