Alameda County voters should support Measure F, the utility tax increase and extension for unincorporated areas of the county.

At issue is a tax that has been in effect since 1992 and approved twice before by voters. It currently applies to gas, electric, telephone and cell phone bills, providing about $9.1 million annually for extra sheriff, planning and library services in communities that do not have their own city governments, such as Ashland, Castro Valley, Cherryland, Fairview, San Lorenzo and Sunol.

With the tax due to expire in 2009, county supervisors are asking voters to extend it until 2021, to raise the charge from 5.5 percent to 6.5 percent and to levy the fee on cable and video services. The changes would bring in an additional $1.5 million to $2.5 million.

We have concerns about the measure, but have concluded it's the best alternative in a legally difficult situation.

The key problem is that voters countywide will determine the fate of a tax that is paid by residents of the unincorporated areas. In an ideal world, solely the latter residents would determine their own future.

But to limit the vote to those areas would create a disjointed voting district and, for legal reasons, require a two-thirds approval that would make the measure much harder to pass.

Past votes to extend the tax have shown that a majority of residents in the unincorporated areas support it.


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Moreover, there are some tough political realities about the situation: Without the tax, city residents would be left to subsidize residents of unincorporated areas, forcing cuts in other key county services, or the unincorporated areas would have to make do with significant cuts, especially to law enforcement. We don't think anyone wants that to happen.

For those reasons, we encourage voters to back Measure F, with all its imperfections.