As West Contra Costa voters prepare to cast ballots on two property tax increases, they might consider that they already pay the highest rates in the county, and nearly the top in the entire East Bay.

This coming week, voters should mail in ballots that must be received no later than May 6 for a special West Contra Costa Healthcare District election. At issue is a measure that would more than triple an assessment for a typical home to about $309 a year.

It's a desperate attempt to keep Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo open. If Measure C passes, it still wouldn't provide enough funds to sustain the facility. It would be a permanent tax that would remain in effect even if the facility is acquired by another health care system, and would end only if the hospital and emergency room close.

Then, in the June 3 election, West Contra Costa voters will be asked to approve the seventh school construction bond measure in 17 years. In the prior six, voters authorized borrowing more than $1.6 billion. Measure H would bring the total to $1.9 billion.

Of that, the district has already borrowed more than $1 billion. No other K-12 district in the state, except the much-larger Los Angeles and San Diego districts, has borrowed more since 1999.

Repaying those bonds has proved very costly. Property owners paid $282 this year for every $100,000 of assessed valuation. That rate would increase to $341 next year if Measure H passes.

One wonders if West Contra Costa voters will say "enough." Property owners feel the pinch paying their tax bills, and renters cover part of the cost in monthly checks to landlords.


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It's understandable that voters are confused. Property tax bills are complicated and ballot information from the two districts and County Counsel Sharon Anderson hides the full cost of the multiple taxes. It's deliberately deceptive.

So let's put West Contra Costa property tax rates in context. They start with the basic levy of 1 percent of the assessed property value that all owners must pay. Then, additional taxes for cities, counties, schools, and water, sewer, park, transit and hospital districts drive up the cost.

Some of the extra taxes are based on the value or size of property; others are flat fees for each parcel. The flat fees hit lower-value properties proportionately harder than those assessed at higher levels. They also make comparisons between cities difficult.

To understand the combined effect of the two types of taxes, I asked Contra Costa and Alameda counties' auditors for a single-family home tax bill from each city for a property assessed at about $330,000, roughly the average for Contra Costa.

Comparing the bills reveals:

  • The total annual tax bill for the Richmond house is 1.8 percent of the assessed value, the highest Contra Costa rate. The next highest were for homes in the other West County cities: Hercules (1.7 percent), followed by Pinole, San Pablo and El Cerrito at about 1.6 percent.

  • Richmond and Hercules pay higher tax rates than all other East Bay cities except Piedmont and Albany.

  • School taxes are the largest component of levies above the 1 percent base rate in West Contra Costa.

  • The West Contra Costa school district assesses the highest school tax rate in the county and nearly the highest in the East Bay, behind only Piedmont and Albany.

  • If Measure H passes, West Contra Costa would have the second highest school tax rate in the East Bay, behind only Piedmont.

  • West Contra Costa is the only part of that county with special hospital district assessments. In Alameda County, only Washington Hospital District in Southern Alameda County and the city of Alameda levy similar taxes.

  • If Measure C passes, West Contra Costa would have the highest hospital tax rates in the East Bay.

    Keep in mind that this simple analysis compares tax rates, not actual dollars. Owners of pricey homes in Orinda or Pleasanton, for example, will pay more in actual dollars even though their tax rates are lower.

    But this sample indicates that West County, with some of the county's poorest neighborhoods, already proportionately taxes those who can least afford it the most. That's something voters should consider.

    Daniel Borenstein is a staff columnist and editorial writer. Reach him at 925-943-8248 or dborenstein@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/BorensteinDan.