LAFAYETTE -- Voters in the Acalanes Union High School District are learning the hard way that you can't always believe everything you read in property tax ballot language.
At a special meeting Tuesday, the board voted 4-1 to issue $15 million in bonds from its 2008 Measure E, which included explicit ballot language assuring voters their property tax rates for the district's combined bond measures would not go up if they authorized $93 million in new construction bonds.
But now, the district is in the uncomfortable position of having to admit it was wrong. It turns out that the district made that promise by estimating that the assessed valuation of property in the district would increase by 5.75 percent a year for the foreseeable future.
Property values in the district, however, did not come anywhere close to growing at those projected rates, which means the amount of money collected from property owners did not rise as quickly as district officials thought it would. So, property owners must now pay a higher percentage of their assessed valuation to help pay off debt the district has already issued, which includes $68 million in Capital Appreciation Bonds from Measure E, as well as $151.1 million in previous bond measure debt.
The ballot measure language promised voters could approve new bonds without worrying that their tax rate would rise above the $35.58 per $100,000 in assessed valuation they were already paying for the district's outstanding bond debt. The promise could be broken this year, when the district projects that tax rates will rise to $36.10 per $100,000 in assessed valuation for the combined bond measures and grow to $48.48 by 2024, according to Chris Learned, associate superintendent for business services.
"So the issue is: we have this because of the collapse in the housing market," he said. "We have a 10-year issue relative to (the tax rate) being bumped over $35.58."
Trustees voted 4-1 on Tuesday to issue another $15 million in bonds, which Learned said would push the tax rate about $2.50 per $100,000 higher, reaching nearly $51 per $100,000 in assessed valuation by 2024.
Trustee Tom Mulvaney voted against issuing new bonds, saying he had personally promised voters in 2008 that their tax rates wouldn't increase if they approved Measure E. The rest of the board said they regretted the increase, but they felt it was important to complete planned projects, including $4.6 million in energy-saving projects, repaying a $2 million loan made from another district fund $2 million for athletic fields, $1.3 million for landscaping, $1 million for a science classroom, $1 million for cost escalation and contingencies, $500,000 toward a technology endowment fund, and $1.9 million for parking lot paving, plumbing, painting and door hardware.
Several district residents expressed concerns about the increased tax rate, saying the community's trust was at stake and voters would remember this the next time the district asks for more money.
The district will ask a Contra Costa Superior Court judge to validate the board's decision to issue more bonds, despite the ballot language. If no one contests this, the district can sell the bonds as planned.
Excerpt of tax rate projections showing the district's bond payments will exceed $35.58 per $100,000 in assessed valuation, breaking promise to voters in 2008 Measure E ballot language.
Year Non-Measure E bonds Outstanding Measure E bonds Total
2014 36.10 $0 $36.10
2020 $44.35 $2.50 $46.85
2024 $48.48 $2.49 $50.97
2025 $4.10 $29.99 $34.09
2026 $0 $30.00 $30.00
2046 $0 $21.85 $21.85
SOURCE: Acalanes Union High School District
To see the complete tax rate projections and video clips from Tuesday's board meeting, visit www.contracostatimes.com/education.
More information, including the list of projects to be completed, is available by calling 925-280-3902 or by visiting www.acalanes.k12.ca.us. Click on "Governing Board," under "District," then select Item 4.03 on the June 24 agenda.