PIEDMONT -- The school parcel tax Piedmont school officials labored to develop for the March 5 ballot got turned on its head with the news of a state Court of Appeals ruling.
The school board held an emergency meeting Tuesday evening to address changes to the proposed school support tax to comply with the ruling handed down Dec. 6 on Borikas v. Alameda Unified School District.
The court held that school parcel taxes must be uniform for all parcels with two narrow exemptions in the statute. For the past 27 years, the Piedmont schools parcel tax has been based on lot size, with differentials for business and multiple dwelling parcels that generally paid more.
Under the old formula, the average-sized parcel of 5,000-9,999-square-feet paid $2,373; parcels 10,000-14,999-square-feet paid $2,706 per year, with commercial properties up to 10,000 square-feet paying $3,547.
The school board voted unanimously to levy a flat tax of $2,406 per parcel to comply with the court's ruling. This will go into effect July 1, 2013, replacing the old Measure B formula for calculating the tax. Measure B was set to expire June 30, 2014.
The school board had to make a decision by Wednesday to notify the Alameda County Registrar of Voters of the changes to the ballot language.
Measure A would require a two-thirds majority to pass. If approved, it would run for eight years, expiring on June 30, 2021. The flat tax was calculated to bring in
Measure A would include, as originally stipulated, a hardship exemption for those who reside in their home and qualify to receive Supplemental Social Security income. It features an option for up to a 2 percent escalator per year, and calls for a citizen's oversight committee to make annual reports to the school board. It does not include an exemption for seniors.
Piedmont school's attorney Mark Williams told the board Tuesday, "There has never been a case on this. Borikas challenged the notion that a tax cannot vary according to use or parcel size. It is causing a revolution on how we look at parcel taxes."
Superintendent Connie Hubbard said the board wanted to move quickly to comply with the ruling. Officials met all last weekend with attorneys discussing what to do.
Resident Tom Clark disagreed, sending an email to all board members saying the flat tax benefits big landowners while penalizing smaller landowners. Clark called it a sweetheart preferential tax and asked the changes be rejected.
"There is plenty of time for the Piedmont school district to go the Legislature, as surely many school districts across the state will do, to modify the legislation in question.
"An amendment can be made in plenty of time for Piedmont to craft a new tax that is consistent with amended legislation. There is no emergency."
While school board president Rick Raushenbush agreed to amend the tax now, he said, "We were comfortable with the previous structure. It's come down now to address compliance."
Trustees Roy Tolles and Ray Gadbois said they too disagreed with the court's ruling, saying it was unfortunate, but necessary to address as soon as possible.
Resident George Childs told the board he was angry with the change.
"There is not enough time for public discourse. Why didn't we know sooner? This (flat tax) could drive some people out of town. And the SSI exemption for Piedmont is meaningless."
Tolles responded, "Prop. 13 is a significant senior exemption. But others will be in much deeper trouble."
George Borikas and other Alameda commercial property owners lodged the challenge that Alameda's Measure H school parcel tax was unfair because it taxes them differently than residential property owners. Their appeal was denied in a lower court, then upheld by the Court of Appeals, First Appellate District.
The court decision can be viewed at http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/A129295.PDE.