Some Alameda business owners, already feeling the pinch of the economic downturn, said they will vote against the Measure H parcel tax on the June 3 ballot, which is intended to raise millions for the cash-strapped Alameda Unified School District.
About 25 business owners concerned about the issue were often critical of the school district during a hastily-called meeting at the Immanuel Lutheran Church community room Thursday evening.
Sam Koka, the owner of SK Auto on Pacific Avenue, said Measure H would cost his business an additional $1,500 a year, when he's already reeling from increased costs for health insurance and fuel.
"The way it's written, I can't support it," he said.
Others complained that they didn't find out until recently how the tax would affect their bottom line.
"You did not consider any of us business people," said Pauline Kelly, the owner of Pauline's Antiques on Park Street. "I consider that incompetent."
The parcel tax, intended to raise upward of $4 million annually for four years for the school district in the face of cost-cutting at the state level, will be levied on commercial property owners at a rate of 15 cents per square foot, with a cap of $9,500.
The tax on commercial entities will make up half of the revenue for the tax, with the rest coming from residential properties, said Bill Schaff, school board president.
Schaff acknowledged that the school district, which had a March 15 deadline to get the emergency measure on the ballot, erred in not previously meeting with business owners.
Every effort was made to make the tax equitable, he said, but the district was constrained by state law, which allows only two exemptions: for seniors and those earning disability benefits.
Business owners who don't own their properties could be subject to a portion or all of the tax, depending on the type of lease agreement signed between the tenant and the building owner, school district chief financial officer Luz Cazares said following the meeting.
Ron Curtis, a trustee with the Alameda Elks Lodge, complained that the tax also would affect nonprofit organizations. The Elks will be taxed about $5,800 annually for its building on Santa Clara Avenue, he said.
Curtis also accused the school district of pandering to big business and property owners in town by limiting the commercial assessment to $9,500. He called it a very "regressive" tax.
Kathy Moehring, the executive director of the West Alameda Business Association, said she called on the school district to provide information to business owners after hearing questions and concerns the week before.
"It's important that people make educated decisions," she said after the meeting.
Alameda economic development commissioner Mike Schmitz said business owners would have the choice to vote the tax proposal down, but said it was worth approving because it ultimately would benefit the entire community.
"If it goes down, it will have an impact on the school district and an impact on property values," he said.
The Alameda Chamber of Commerce, the West Alameda Business Association and Park Street Business District have indicated they are not taking a position on Measure H.