Defeating parcel tax won't help anything

Employee benefit liabilities and costly missteps recently made by city officials are cause for community concern, but the parcel tax is not the culprit.

The parcel tax contributes to the revenue that enables the city to provide above-average municipal services. A decade ago it did allow generous (competitive) compensation packages for city employees. The parcel tax, however, is not a slush fund. Nor is it onerous, amounting to about five percent of annual property taxes for most households. The school tax is five times that amount.

The parcel tax also provides a cushion to absorb unexpected expenditures or revenue reductions. This, in itself, is reason to support the parcel tax. No rational business or homeowner would intentionally reduce income in the face of rising expenses.

The nearly $40 million in unfunded liabilities for employee benefits is a rising debt that must be curtailed. It is not unmanageable, however. If, for example, the entire $40 million were to be amortized over the next 25 years, the annual impact would be only $400 per household and hardly a cause for alarm. Current obligations are fully accounted for in the FY 2012/13 budget and its five-year projections. These budget projections show an ending surplus of $4.6 million with the parcel tax but a deficit of $2.3 million without it, about a $7 million difference!


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The MTRC and the Budget Advisory Committee did what they were asked to do: advise the City Council of impending fiscal problems, highlight fiscal and managerial deficiencies, and suggest steps to improve decisions and accountability. Both committees unequivocally supported continuing the parcel tax. Without it, the city would be forced to make "unprecedented" cuts, so said the report of the Budget Advisory Committee.

Several citizens who served on these committees agree that defeating the parcel tax will force the city to cut expenses, but they now mistakenly believe that cutting the expenses will also force the city to make certain fiscal reforms, some of which have already been made. Ironically, defeat of the parcel tax deprives the city of the very revenue needed to meet these expectations, including the setting aside of meaningful reserves. Defeat of the parcel tax also precludes funding for any improvements such as a new swimming pool and expansion of KCOM coverage, and would likely end library services.

The parcel tax does not make decisions. The City Council makes decisions -- good and bad -- based on citizen input and staff recommendations. Adding an independent budget analyst and an experienced project manager would help avoid future missteps. Electing a City Council that represents a cross-section of the city's neighborhoods would offset the undue influence of special interests groups. But defeating the parcel tax does not accomplish anything.

William Blackwell

Piedmont

Avoid city service cuts; vote 'yes' on Y

I am working with Piedmont friends and neighbors to inform voters why it is important to renew the existing parcel tax with no increase in order to maintain existing services.

Parcel tax revenues help pay for Piedmont's police, fire, paramedics, park maintenance, street and sidewalk maintenance and other city services and amenities.

People often wonder what would be cut if the parcel tax is not renewed. Any proposed cuts could significantly affect the quality of life in Piedmont. For example, Piedmont has the lowest rate of violent crime of any city in Alameda County, even though we are entirely surrounded by the city with the highest crime rate in Alameda County.

The 2011 Municipal Tax Review Committee (MTRC) report stated: "Parcel tax revenue has become an essential component of the City's fiscal picture. Therefore, it is essential to renew the existing parcel tax at its current level before it expires on June 30, 2013." The Budget Advisory Committee reached the same conclusion: " ... If the parcel tax renewal measure on the November 2012 ballot fails to achieve a two-thirds majority, the Council will need to continue to place parcel tax measures before the voters or face the unpleasant prospect of having to make unprecedented cuts in programs ... "

A vote for the parcel tax will help maintain high-quality municipal services and help preserve our investment in Piedmont.

Vote "yes" on Y on Nov. 6.

Conna McCarthy Craigie

Piedmont

BevMo 'client need' still doesn't exist

As reported in the Oct. 5 editions of The Montclarion and The Piedmonter, recently four Oakland Planning commissioners provisionally voted to deny BevMo's application for a retail location at 3868 Piedmont Ave. The official vote will take place in an upcoming Planning Commission meeting that will include three planning commissioners who were absent for the Sept. 19 vote. Among other factors influencing the vote was BevMo's inability to demonstrate client need.

The Planning Commission is correct in its initial assessment. BevMo representative Greg Endom has attempted to demonstrate client need with data showing nearby residents driving to other cities such as Orinda to shop at BevMo. I have shopped at BevMo's locations in Jack London Square and in Emeryville but only as an afterthought while doing other shopping. So if the company's data includes shopping habits like mine to make their case for "client need," their conclusions are dead-wrong. Never in my four years as a Piedmont Avenue neighborhood resident (or 30 years as a Bay Area resident) have I made a special trip to shop at BevMo, by car or otherwise.

Robin Dean

Oakland

'No' on Y; don't aid fiscal dysfunction

I realize that everyone who cares will have their own reasons for voting yes or no on the Measure Y parcel tax on the Nov. 6 ballot, and that some may be undecided. I care and ask that you read my attached reasons for voting "no."

I am not a Tea Party type. Generally I am a good left-wing Democrat (but I don't drink all of the left-wing Kool-Aid). I think our police and fire services and employees are first-rate and, together with our schools, make Piedmont a wonderful place to live. I am a tax-tolerant citizen who believes in taxes for the public benefit. I have proudly paid my taxes and, until Measure A, voted "yes" on every city tax measure on the ballot during my almost 40 years as a Piedmont resident.

I also believe, however, that the proposed Measure Y parcel tax, like the proposed Measure A sewer surtax, raises very important governance issues. I simply do not trust the City Council or the city administrator with the public's finances or taxes, whether the public money or tax is for a special or general purpose.

I worked hard to defeat Measure A and I will work hard to defeat Measure Y. I have found our city government at the very top, at the city administrator and council levels, programmatically lies about the big issues, wastes our taxes on foolish games and has become unaccountable. I believe in good sewers, undergrounding electric lines and youth sports facilities, but I believe our city government has been dismissive and disrespectful of most city residents and has perverted all of those worthy endeavors for the benefit of narrow private agendas.

In the process, our city government has wasted millions of our tax dollars. It is elitist, arrogant, out of touch and out of control and cannot be trusted to pursue the values I treasure and hold dear. I have come to the conclusion that the reason the city administrator has gotten away with shameful conduct of important public business is because those ultimately responsible on the Council have given him permission. I believe in ground-level direct-action democracy. I believe in open and honest government, which is absent in Piedmont.

Thomas D. Clark

Piedmont United to Stop Feeding the Crocodile

Don't keep taxing citizens; cut costs

Measure Y has attracted widespread attention, as well as yet more divisiveness in our city.

I do not believe that the most important issue is either the amount or history of the parcel tax. Rather, the real issues are:

  • What, if any, so-called essential services would be adversely impacted if Measure Y were defeated, and

  • How has it come to pass that both the MTRC and BAC have opined that the current compensation and benefit levels for employees, even after the recent negotiations, are unsustainable and out of control?

    So, the city administrator and mayor, among others, assert that these services, including police, fire and EMT, would be imperiled, in whole or in part. The safety of citizens and a reduction in EMT response times are often cited. If so, surely, the city has considered and planned on exactly what services would suffer and to what extent. Isn't that part of a prudent financial process, i.e., to anticipate the financial risks to the delivery of essential services? But it hasn't been done! I have seen no such analysis, detailed or otherwise, just rhetoric. Have you? From everything I have heard and read, for example, there would be absolutely no need for any such reduction in these services, especially EMT responses. On what basis would you believe otherwise?

    Please consider the compensation levels of our valuable employees, including an average level of salary and benefits equal to $160,000. You might find it interesting to go to the Public Employee Salaries in 2011 website, as reported in the San Jose Mercury News (www.mercurynews.com/salaries/bay-area/2011). Also, look at the related pension information. The results for Piedmont are listed and likely greatly exceed levels and durations of benefits available to many Piedmont residents, especially those on fixed incomes.

    If you were an employee or owner of a company or a member of a household in charge of the family budget, how would you assess the financial performance of whoever was in charge? I understand that municipal finances are different. But, Piedmont has an unfunded liability of (are you ready?) $40,000,000 and an admitted unsustainable and out-of-control compensation and benefit position. Is this how the city's finances should be conducted? Please, just think about it before endorsing, much less voting for, a position which encourages current financial practices. Spend a few minutes and visit www.NoOnMeasureY.com. You may even agree.

    Aaron Salloway

    Piedmont

    School board invites Piedmont's input

    As recently announced, the Piedmont School Board will decide whether to ask voters to renew the School Support Tax at a Nov. 28 special meeting.

    At its next regular meetings (Oct. 24 and Nov. 14), the board will review and discuss options for the proposed measure, including duration, amount, potential to increase, and any potential exemptions. By Nov. 14, the board expects there will be a draft measure developed based on recommendations, discussion and public input. Given state funding cuts, the existing School Support Tax constitutes more than 30 percent of the district's budget, and thus its renewal is incredibly important to the education of our community's children.

    I encourage anyone who has input for the board's consideration in developing the proposal that will be put to voters in March to attend one of the next two board meetings or email board members with your comments. Thank you for your involvement!

    Rick Raushenbush

    President, Piedmont School Board

    Keep services good; 'yes' on Measure Y

    We are writing this letter to show our support for Measure Y (renewal of the Municipal Services Tax).

    We believe that voting "yes" on Measure Y is important for many reasons. It is an existing tax that serves many purposes for Piedmont, which include supporting our police and fire departments (including paramedics) and other services, that keep our city safe and clean.

    We moved to Piedmont for its favorable schools and the unique care that this city provides for our children and our elders. There is no substitute for a less-than-five-minute response time when 911 is called for a crime in progress or a medical emergency! Measure Y funds more than 7 percent of the city's budget, which is money well spent on resources that we can actually see in our parks, street maintenance and other essential services.

    We both encourage others to support our city of Piedmont and vote "yes" on Measure Y.

    Janice and Brian Cain

    Piedmont

    Back up claims on Y with hard numbers

    Measure Y proponents on the City Council have been quick to make gloomy prophecies about what will happen if Measure Y is defeated. But none of the Council's self-described "numbers guys" have ever backed-up these prophecies up with real fiscal projections.

    The City Council has never been given any projections by staff or Mayor John Chiang that failure to pass Measure Y will automatically lead to reductions in public safety services and specifically EMT services. In fact, council has undertaken no planning in the event Measure Y does not pass. If the outcome will be so dire, shouldn't a prudent forward-looking elected body plan for such eventualities? It seems very reckless not to do so.

    Councilman Garrett Keating in a recent online comment has suggested that "there is zero probability that public safety services would be cut." The gloomy prophecies seem like electioneering and fear-mongering by Measure Y's proponents.

    Piedmont's unfunded $40 million liability in pension and benefits for current employees presents a greater risk of cuts to these services. Once again, the City Council has never been presented hard numbers, although staff have implied that Piedmont faces some difficult choices over the next eight to 10 years as these pension obligations come due.

    Piedmont voters should demand real projections from City Hall before backing a tax renewal. Until then, Vote "no" on Measure Y.

    Ryan Gilbert

    Piedmont

    Rein in reckless spending; 'no' on Y

    The several million dollars wasted by the City of Piedmont on the Piedmont Hills undergrounding debacle and city costs for the "gift" of Blair Park have consumed revenues equal to most of the $6 million collected by Piedmont's parcel tax in fiscal 2009-2013. Yet Mayor John Chiang tells us that renewing the parcel tax (Measure Y on the November ballot) is essential "to maintain the excellent city services which assure the safety of our citizens and keep Piedmont an attractive place to live." Nonsense. The parcel tax is not part of the solution to Piedmont's financial challenges.

    The tax, by affording the City Council the luxury of refusing to manage city finances properly, is part of the problem. The mayor and the council have chosen to ignore the important and urgent recommendations of the Municipal Tax Review Committee that they appointed last year. But now the mayor and Measure Y proponents claim that they are "focused on working toward a solution of 'public pension costs.' "

    The mayor fails to tell us that, over the last nine years, virtually every dime of the almost 40 percent increase in the city budget (a spending increase of more than $6 million) has gone to rapidly increasing employee salaries and benefits. The annual average compensation of city employees is now $160,000 ($100,000 in salary and $60,000 in benefits). The mayor says he is "proud" of "city leadership" on this issue.

    The reason for the mayor's pride? First, a reduction in retirement benefits solely for future city employees, a step that will take at least a decade to yield significant cost savings. And second, a tiny and largely symbolic increase in the contribution of city employees to their extraordinarily generous retirement and health benefits.

    The fact remains, as reported by the council-appointed Budget Advisory Committee, that Piedmont households now face a $40 million unfunded liability resulting from the council's willingness to impose long-term costs on every Piedmont household. That represents a liability of $10,000 for every Piedmont household.

    My family and I have lived in Piedmont for 34 years. In the past, I have been glad to vote for taxes that genuinely contribute to the quality of life in this community.

    Measure Y is not such a tax. Along with a majority of the Municipal Tax Review Committee I urge a "no" vote on Y. For more information, visit www.NoOnMeasureY.com.

    Steve Weiner

    Piedmont