Just a little over a week remains for Lamorinda voters to decide whether to tax themselves for an indefinite period of time to continue funding local public schools.
Voters in Lafayette, Orinda, Moraga and sections of western Walnut Creek are being asked in a special May 6 mail-in election to approve a $112-per-parcel tax known as Measure A to maintain curriculums and programs in the Acalanes Union High School District and keep class sizes small, among other goals.
Additionally, the Lafayette School District hopes voters within its boundaries will greenlight a $539-per-parcel tax, Measure B, that bundles two existing parcel taxes set to expire June 30, 2015. If approved by a two-thirds voter majority, both taxes could end up costing Lafayette voters a total of $651 per year -- and neither tax will sunset.
The lack of expiration dates has prompted nonprofit government tax and spending watchdog group, the Contra Costa Taxpayers Association, to raise one of several red flags about the measures. The group is recommending voters reject the permanent taxes, arguing that Acalanes' increasing operating budget deficit may require additional tax increases. They also argue Lafayette's tax -- which includes an annual cost-of-living inflation adjustment carried over from an expiring parcel tax -- will grow each year.
"Good tax policy is to contain a sunset clause in order to obtain new approval from the taxpayers for a tax to continue beyond a certain period of time," said Taxpayer Association Executive Director Alex Aliferis in an e-mail. "A reasonable time frame is between one and eight years. Why? Things change and state budgets change."
The Taxpayers Association also questions what it describes as each district's escalating retiree debt managed by the California State Teachers Retirement Association. It also does not support proposed tax exemptions.
"If an exempted taxpayer is allowed to vote on the tax and it passes, all taxpayers within the boundaries of the taxing entity should be obligated to pay the tax," Aliferis said.
Measure A supporters, including Lafayette business owner Ed Stokes, Walnut Creek resident Robert Stankus and Moraga School Board President Kathy Ranstrom, argue in an official ballot argument that the tax will continue previously approved funding at one of the top-rated high school districts in the state. The district's traditionally strong academic achievement, supporters argue, helps maintain high property values.
"Measure A will continue, without increase, the local funding voters have already approved to ensure that the quality of teaching and coursework will remain at the current high level," backers wrote in their statement.
Measure B supporters say the Lafayette School District tax will continue local funding of core academic programs including those in math, science and English. The funds will also only be spent on programs specifically listed in the measure, according to an argument in favor of the tax.
Voters in the Acalanes High School District previously passed the Measure A tax in 2010. It generates about $3.9 million annually, according to the district.
Property owners already pay a $189-per-parcel tax -- Measure G -- which raises $6.6 million annually for the district and does not sunset.
Lafayette's Measure B combines the existing $313 Measure J tax with the $176 Measure B tax.
Final election costs will be determined by the county and will be shared by the two school districts and the West Contra Costa Healthcare District, which is also participating in the special election with a bond measure for emergency room care, intensive care and other critical medical services at Doctors Medical Center San Pablo. The county elections department has estimated the election will cost $2.50 per voter in each district, according to assistant registrar of voters Scott Konopasek.
Acalanes officials said they budgeted $150,000 this fiscal year in anticipation of the measure; Lafayette School District administrators said they budgeted $126,000 for possible election costs.