Letter to the Editor | Measure F and the overall tax burden in Piedmont

The authors submitted this letter to the City Council on Jan. 30

The Piedmont League of Women Voters is writing to express concern about Measure F specifically, and more broadly about the piecemeal process for asking Piedmont voters to approve bond measures and special taxes.

Our concerns are two-fold. First, while we understand that the City seeks predictable revenue, Measure F’s twelve-year term removes an important means of accountability to voters: the need to seek approval of a special tax on a regular basis. Second, we fear that due to the lack of truly comprehensive long-range planning by the City, Measure F will not be the end of additional special taxes or bond measures through 2037.

By our calculations, Piedmont’s taxpayers are currently subject to a sewer tax, a school bond and taxes, a parcel tax, a pool bond, and – in some areas – a utilities undergrounding bond.

When the Council approved Measure F for the March 2024 ballot, the Council commented that the $245,000 per year equipment budget in Measure F would not cover all costs for improved City services. The Council even suggested that it might return to voters as soon as November 2024 to request an additional increase in the parcel tax.

For many years, it has been known that costly seismic retrofitting is needed for Piedmont’s public safety buildings. The Council has recently contemplated, as part of the housing element, options that could include making improvements to the corporation yard, relocating a sports field, and offering City-funded incentives to developers.

These possibilities were not included in the City’s 10-year General Fund financial projections on which the Budget Advisory and Financial Planning Committee based its Measure F recommendation.

The League believes that all of the growing needs for City services must be considered as a part of the City’s long-range planning. When viewed in this context, the Council will need to set priorities, choose the most critical needs and forego some “nice to haves” in order to minimize what is asked of taxpayers.

Piedmont’s voters are generous. They typically approve requests for bond measures and special taxes, believing that they make Piedmont a more attractive place to live and improve owners’ property values. At some point, the tax burden could become unsustainable and the Council’s requests may be denied. The League urges the Council to avoid this result by 1) taking steps immediately to engage in comprehensive planning that includes all anticipated long-range funding needs for City services, and 2) making the hard choices needed in order to keep the tax burden sustainable.

Because this letter is primarily “big picture” and forward looking in nature, however, the League is not taking a position on whether voters should vote for or against Measure F.

9 thoughts on “Letter to the Editor | Measure F and the overall tax burden in Piedmont

  1. Thanks Mike but are we reading the same ballot measure? Measure F is proposing to increase the parcel tax by 20% and extend its term from 4 to 12 years. Immediate loss of city services should F fail will not happen – the BAFPC report essentially says this – and any budget hole would not happen until June 2025 and that scenario is very unlikely.
    The point of this discussion is the League’s concern that this tax increase is being proposed without adequate analysis of the city’s long-term funding needs. Such analysis would be used to understand the tax burden on Piedmonters, which the BAFPC has identified as the highest among comparable cities. Just saying we will account for future capital projects as “voters see fit” strikes me as poor long-term planning. And to that end, a better estimate for transfer tax receipts would improve that planning

    • “The immediate loss of city services” won’t happen, but they will happen in 2025 when the existing parcel tax expires, unless renewed. Will the Oakland crime problem go away in 2025? That would be nice, but personally, I’m not counting on it.
      I think you’ll find that the overall tax burden per capita in Oakland is higher in Berkeley and Oakland than Piedmont.

      • When has a parcel tax ever not been renewed in Piedmont? New “drafts” of the parcel tax that failed in past years have always been revised and then passed by voters in the next election. Neither Mike nor I know what will happen with the June 2025 budget. Best to just let voters know now that if they don’s support F in March 2024 there will be the opportunity to vote again on the tax in November 2024 before the current parcel tax expires in June 2025. I don’t consider Oakland and Berkeley “comparable” cities to Piedmont

  2. Council shouldn’t forget the lesson of the 2012 Measure Y campaign. Arrogantly taking taxpayers for granted drew a strong No campaign. A little humility and lot of forward planning will go a long way.

  3. A confusing and speculative article. Measure F renews a tax we are already paying and at a not unreasonable 20% increased level. If it doesn’t pass, the preexisting parcel tax will expire, leaving a hole in the budget. City services including public safety will be cut. Given the security concerns in surrounding areas, is this a good time to decrease public safety?
    Yes, big picture planning is needed about long range city buildings and infrastructure issues. But that reality shouldn’t detract from the need to maintain existing services.

    • Not confusing or speculative at all. The city has demonstrated inability to engage in necessary financial planning. This letter simply suggests that it address that shortcoming.

    • I respect Mike’s civic expertise. However, the current Parcel Tax (“PT”) expires June 2025. The City traditionally pays the additional cost to put the PT on the Feb/Mar special election ballot. In the event it doesn’t pass the City can then place the current PT on the November general Election ballot. For Measure F, should it fail, the City has already indicated we will see a PT placed on the November ballot. There is  also the first quarter 2025 special election possibility.

      The 2023-2024 budget is already set and all City funds are healthy; there will be no financial hole created by failure of Measure F in a month.  Frankly given the importance of Public Safety Services there is little possibility of the parcel tax at current levels not being passing in the next two election cycles.  I support the PT at current levels. 

  4. Thanks to the League for raising these concerns. The latest BAFPC report shows Piedmont has highest aggregate tax burden of any comparable city. The BAFPC should conduct a more thorough analysis of how that burden could grow to meet the needs of the city before recommending new taxes. To do so, the BAFPC should include more accurate revenue projections – an analysis of the transfer tax showed the city consistently underestimates annual transfer tax revenue by >1$M or more. (https://www.piedmontcivic.org/2021/05/16/opinion-property-transfer-tax-revenue-underestimated-in-budgets/.)
    This “volatility” has been directed to capital, equipment and facility maintenance funds so it’s a little disingenuous for the BAFPC to raise the need for more taxes when it doesn’t properly forecast revenue.

    The 12-year term proposed for the tax does diminish an important means of voter accountability. Under the proposed 12-year term, a whole Council could be seated and termed out before the tax comes up for review. Our staggered Council and ceremonial mayor leave voters, even generous ones, little option to express their opinion of city administration other than through the municipal services tax. One could argue that a shorter term is better, allowing Council to go to the community via the ballot in times of low revenue to maintain city services. It is the city service tax, not surplus tax.

    To the League’s suggestion of comprehensive planning I would add include the school district in that discussion. The BAFPC has always recommended that the City confer with PUSD when planning tax increases. That didn’t happen with Measure UU and any new capital project bonds to should be considered with the long-term needs of the district.

    • I usually defer to Garrett’s excellent research and experience, but I fear he may be mixing apples and oranges on Measure F. Measure F is merely a continuation of a parcel tax that Piedmont voters have been regularly renewing since the early 80s. It’s purpose is to pay for the excellent services we enjoy like quality police, fire, parks and those hardworking public works maintenance crews. There would be a big hole in the budget if the parcel tax is not renewed. And cuts would have to occur. Can we afford fewer police considering what is going on outside of Piedmont?
      Longterm capital improvement projects are a different subject than Measure F. The pool is just one of those with probably more to follow. Each project will be prioritized and tackled as the future voters see fit.
      Some object to the 20% increase in Measure F. I wish the cost of my fire insurance or even a dozen eggs had only gone up 20% since 2020.

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