OAKLAND — A proposal to impose a $46 annual parcel tax on homeowners for park maintenance and tree-trimming is among four measures City Council members are considering placing before voters for a potential June 2 special election.

The council is grappling with a projected budget deficit of at least $50 million for the 2009-10 fiscal year as the economy falls deeper into recession, and officials are looking for ways to cut costs and raise revenue to fill the gap and maintain basic levels of services.

The parcel tax is one of four potential ballot measures scheduled for consideration by the council's finance and management committee at a noon meeting today at City Hall, 1 Frank Ogawa Plaza.

The committee also will weigh the possibility of either repealing or amending a 2008 ballot question, Measure OO, which required drastic increases in the amount of money the city is required to set aside for children's programs; an amendment to the city's Real Property Transfer Tax ordinance to ensure transfers of real estate through corporate mergers or acquisitions are taxable; and a 2 percent surcharge to Oakland's Hotel Tax.

Measures approved by the finance committee go to the full council March 3 before possibly going to voters.

One idea that's off the table for now: asking voters to shell out more money to beef up Police Department staffing.

Councilmember Jean Quan (Montclair-Laurel), head of the finance committee, proposed the park-maintenance parcel tax after the council voted last summer against collecting $12 million in increased Landscaping and Lighting Assessment District fees after the city faced questions about whether the increased rates would have held up in court.

"This is a city that loves its parks, and we keep voting to buy more parks," Quan said. "We have to pay for the maintenance of them."

The measure would generate about $8 million annually. Single-family homeowners would pay $46 a year and owners of multifamily units would pay $34.50 per unit. Businesses would be taxed varying rates, depending on square footage and frontage space.

The measure would require a two-thirds vote to pass.

The $12 million hit in landscaping and lighting fees forced the city to make drastic cuts in October, including layoffs, to its park-maintenance efforts. Quan said the parcel tax is designed to restore as many of the previously existing services as possible.

Others say the timing could be wrong.

Councilmember Patricia Kernighan (Grand Lake-Chinatown) said she wants to see recommendations from an audit of the city's public works agency implemented before residents are asked to pay more taxes. The audit is expected to be released publicly in March or April.

"Though I think a tax may eventually be necessary in order to keep park maintenance at a satisfactory level, I want to see the reforms in the public works agency implemented first," Kernighan said.

Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente (Glenview-Fruitvale) is taking a hard line against the idea.

"The easy answer to everything is to increase taxes, and I haven't seen any real effort to achieve efficiencies, to manage our resources better or to implement technology that would allow us to manage our people better," he said. "We cannot just raise taxes when times are bad."

Budget pain

Even if all four ballot measures are placed on the ballot and are approved by voters, the city would see a projected increase of only about $15 million in revenue in the 2009-10 fiscal year — and most of that would be designated for specific items within the budget. That means tens of millions of dollars in cuts and more layoffs are likely no matter what happens to the ballot measures.

"This is just a small part of the overall picture of balancing next year's budget," Quan said.

Repealing Measure OO would save the city about $5 million in 2009-10, according to a memo from Quan to other members of the committee. Altering it so that youth-program funding increases would be phased in more gradually would save about $3 million.

The measure to amend Oakland's Real Property Transfer Tax ordinance to ensure transfers of real estate through corporate mergers or acquisitions are taxable could generate $500,000 to $1 million a year, according to a city staff report.

And the proposed 2 percent surcharge on the city's Hotel Tax could generate $2 million a year. The current tax rate is 11 percent.

A number of council members seem open to the idea of increasing the Hotel Tax, though there is disagreement on how the revenue should be spent. Quan, for example, is pushing to split it four ways among the Oakland Zoo, the Oakland Museum of California, the Chabot Space and Science Center and arts and culture programs.

Councilmember Nancy Nadel (Downtown-West Oakland) said she would spend nearly half the revenue, about 45 percent of it, on arts and culture programs while lowering the amount for the zoo, the museum and the science center.

De La Fuente is expected to push for a hefty portion of the potential revenue to be directed to the Oakland Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Timing concerns

For Nadel, a chief concern is whether the timing is right for an election. She said she is "wary" about spending money for an election "unless I see it can save us a least as much" as it will cost.

The recent decision by state officials to hold a special state election May 19 left almost no time for city officials to piggyback on that election. The deadline for council members to put their own measures on the May 19 ballot passed Friday.

Figures from the Alameda County Registrar of Voters indicate an Oakland-only election June 2 could cost the city nearly $1.5 million, but that figure could decline significantly if other jurisdictions in the county also hold elections.

Quan said it's possible the council could put off placing ballot measures before voters until November, when other jurisdictions will have elections.

Mayor Ron Dellums, in the meantime, has discussed the possibility of another measure to increase police department staffing after a November tax-increase measure to do just that fell well short of the two-thirds threshold needed.

On Monday, Dellums' chief of staff, David Chai, said: "We're keeping all of our options open as we consider the current economic realities and our need to have the necessary level of police officers for the city's best interests."

Reach Kelly Rayburn at 510-208-6435.

Potential ballot measures
With Oakland facing a budget crisis, a City Council committee will consider four potential ballot measures at a noon meeting today at City Hall, 1 Frank Ogawa Plaza:
  • A new parcel tax on residents and business owners to fund park maintenance, streetlight repair and tree trimming.
  • A measure to either amend or overturn Measure OO, which voters approved in November to drastically increase the city's funding for youth programs.*
  • An amendment to the city's Real Property Transfer Tax ordinance to ensure transfers of real estate through corporate mergers or acquisitions are taxable.
  • A 2 percent surcharge to Oakland's Hotel Tax.
    * Would require a simple majority to pass. All others would require a two-thirds vote.