OAKLAND -- Council members appear unwilling to ask voters to pay higher property taxes so the city can hire more police officers after a poll found that it would be a tough sell.
Oakland voters are inclined to renew Measure Y, the city's signature public safety measure passed a decade ago. But a city-commissioned survey presented Tuesday to the council's Public Safety Committee cautioned that doubling the measure's property tax component likely would doom its prospects with voters in November.
"We would all love to increase those resources, but let us not risk what we have today by being overly greedy and just out of touch with reality," Councilwoman Libby Schaaf said after seeing the survey.
Passed by voters in 2004, Measure Y generates $21 million per year for crime prevention programs, firefighting services and 63 police officers. It expires in January.
Polls have shown city residents want more police and social programs, but the city has a credibility gap with voters when it comes to the measure, which taxes single family homeowners $98 per year and imposes an 8.5 percent surcharge on parking rates.
The measure was contingent on the city maintaining a police force of at least 802 officers. When the economy crashed and police staffing dropped below that threshold, voters approved eliminating the staffing clause in 2010 so the city could continue to collect the tax.
Oakland has 658 police officers after graduating 47 new recruits last week.
Cities sometimes try to increase sunsetting tax measures a year or two before they expire. That way if voters reject a higher tax, city leaders still have time to ask them to maintain the established tax rate.
However, Oakland got a late start when it comes to Measure Y. With the measure set to expire, the city's pollster, EMC Research, warned council members Tuesday that they risked losing the entire tax if they asked for more and were rejected by voters in November.
The survey found that support for the measure surged when those polled were told that their taxes would not be increased. Overall, 82 percent of respondents said they would likely support renewing the measure at the current tax rate after being told about the programs it would fund.
Only 53 percent said they would likely support doubling the property tax to $196 per year. A two-thirds majority is needed for approval.
The council isn't expected to place a final tax measure on the ballot until July. But if Tuesday's meeting was any indication, there doesn't appear to be enough votes for a tax hike. In addition to Schaaf, council members Lynette Gibson McElhaney, Noel Gallo and Rebecca Kaplan all said the city should maintain the current tax rate.
Kaplan said more tax revenue could be generated by extending the tax to undeveloped parcels.
The lone dissenter was Councilman Dan Kalb. He said that voters likely would approve a moderately higher property tax, such as $124 per year, if supporters ran a strong campaign for it.
"People want us to do more," he said. "Not marginally more than we're doing now. People want us to do meaningfully more than we're doing now."
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.