Letter to the Editor | In favor of a progressive tax

In 2013 our current flat rate per parcel school tax was passed by voters to replace the previous tax based on a five tier parcel size levy, a modestly progressive tax.

Our School Board expressed sincere regret at eliminating the progressive tax, but believed it had no choice other than to tax all parcels regardless of size at the same rate because of the 2012 Boricas v Alameda USD Appeal’s Court decision.

Of the 3,921 school tax parcels in Piedmont, 76% of Piedmont homes are on parcels under 10,000 square feet (“sf”). These taxpayers previous $1,989 and $2,260 tax became $2,406 in 2013, a 6% to 21% increase. Owners of undeveloped parcels went from $1,009 to $2,406, a 238% increase.

However, a small percentage of taxpayers benefited as owners of large parcels, commercial buildings and multi-unit buildings saw reductions of 7% to 80%. Some large commercial buildings previously taxed at $5,052 went to $2,406, a 52% decrease. 20,000 sf lots went from $3,378 to $2,406, a 29% decrease. A multi-unit building went from $11,907 to $2,406, an 80% decrease.

A progressive tax based on per square footage of building space is used in Alameda and other districts. The current Alameda tax passed by 74% in 2016 was challenged in 2017 on the validity of levying a tax on building square footage.

On March 4, 2018 the Alameda Schools per square footage of building tax was found legally valid in Alameda County Superior Court. On January 31, 2019 a California appellate court validated a local agency’s special tax calculated on the basis of square footage of improved structures (Dondlinger v. Los Angeles County Regional).

Piedmont schools previously embraced a partially progressive tax and now have an excellent progressive tax option that is far more equitable by using building per square footage.

I propose the following progressive tax:

  1. Tax will be at $1 to $1.05 per square foot of building size. The District will determine the exact rate needed to provide funding at slightly above the current level.
  2. $4,999 will be the maximum tax for any building.
  3. Currently some multi-parcel estates are subject to multiple taxes and some are subject to one tax (GC 53087.4). So that all multi-parcel estates are treated uniformly and given that many multi-parcel estates have large homes that will be assessed at the maximum tax, a contiguous parcel exemption will be included. No property owner for a single home will pay more than $4,999.
  4. $1,099 will be the rate for unimproved lots.
  5. A 2% annual cost adjustment will be included.
  6. The tax may include an income based senior exemption at a rate to be determined so as not to cost the District more than 2% of the what the total tax revenue would be without this exemption.
  7. Compassionate SSI and SSDI exemptions will be included. These are not aged-based.

Rick Schiller
Piedmont resident

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