East Bay taxpayers in November are being asked to foot the bill for California's economic crisis, with dozens of school districts, cities and special districts floating parcel taxes, bond measures and sales tax increases to shore up flagging budgets.

The number of requests for money demonstrates the growing need schools and local governments face as they try to maintain programs, employees and services in the wake of budget cuts.

School districts especially, with few outside revenue sources, are increasingly turning to voters for bonds and parcel taxes to close state funding shortages. Bonds pay for facilities, while parcel taxes help districts pay for general fund operating costs they might otherwise have to do without.

"The state has less and the (school) districts have less money," said state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord. "It's tough, because I think the districts have to prove that they've done everything they can to cut costs. The voters have to decide if this is a priority to them."

Some say the measures -- many of which are coming on top of those passed in previous years -- are putting an unfair burden on taxpayers.

With California ranked third in unemployment behind Rhode Island and Michigan, this is not a good time to be asking for handouts from voters, said Kris Vosburgh, executive director of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. Yet previous successful tax measures in the East Bay could prompt districts to believe they can continue to count on area residents dole out funds, he said.


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"Contra Costa County is ground zero for parcel taxes. I would say at least half the parcel taxes that we hear about come from your area," said Vosburgh, who attributes that to the relative affluence of many areas of the county.

Voters in depressed areas, he said, may feel more inclined to think: "The school district's going to have to wait."

In Alameda County, the Berkeley school district is asking for both a parcel tax and a bond measure; the Emery and San Leandro school districts and Ohlone Community College district are seeking bond measures; and the Fremont and Oakland school districts are seeking parcel taxes.

The city of Oakland is also seeking a $360 parcel tax for public safety programs, while San Leandro and Union City want to raise sales taxes.

The Knightsen, Martinez and Pittsburg school districts in Contra Costa County are asking voters to approve bond measures, while the John Swett and West Contra Costa districts are hoping to pass parcel taxes, as is the Bethel Island Municipal Improvement District. Sales tax increases are sought by Antioch, Concord and El Cerrito.

Education officials say bond measures are their best option to pay for facilities improvements

"In the state of California, this is the way school districts fund capital projects," said Enrique Palacios, associate superintendent for business services in the Pittsburg district. "The state has a program for construction and modernization that provides matching funds to school districts, but we need to have the local funds to do the match. Most of those funds come from general obligation bonds, not from the general fund. As you know the general fund is taking a beating."

The Pittsburg and Martinez districts want to upgrade or build new schools, including solar projects. Knightsen wants to enhance technology, repair buildings and pay off lease debts so it can use the general fund savings to help pay teachers.

Alameda County districts are seeking bond measures to renovate or construct new classrooms, schools, playgrounds, athletic fields or pools.

Other districts are turning to taxpayers for more basic, in-the-classroom needs.

The John Swett and West Contra Costa districts are seeking parcel taxes to pay teachers' salaries and enhance math, science, reading, writing and arts programs. Alameda County districts want voters to approve similar taxes to maintain campuses and academic programs, keep libraries open, support technology and pay teachers' and other employees' salaries.

In Oakland, property owners already pay a $195 parcel tax for schools, and are paying on capital improvement bonds approved between 1994 and 2006 that total $908 million. The school district in November is asking voters to approve a parcel tax costing another $195 for 10 years, bringing their total school parcel tax bill to $390. Officials estimate the tax will generate $20 million a year to raise salaries in the hopes of retaining effective teachers.

"The need is there," said Trustee David Kakishiba. "Even more so in these tough times, I think this is the kind of work that we need to do."

But such measures approved year after year can add up for property owners, said Kris Hunt, executive director of the Contra Costa Taxpayers Association. While parcel tax ballot language is clear about the cost and duration of payments, bond measures don't spell out all these details.

For instance, voter information for the Mt. Diablo school district's $348 million Measure C bond, passed in June, didn't mention the tax payments on the measure could last 42 years and the bonds could ultimately cost up to $1.8 billion before they are paid off.

Staff writers Matthew Artz, Paul Burgarino, Hannah Dreier, Katy Murphy, Shelly Meron, Rick Radin and Lisa White contributed to this report.

Taxpayer money
Numerous parcel taxes, school bonds, sales-tax hikes and other tax-related measures await Contra Costa and Alameda County voters in November.
Bond measures (require 55 percent approval to pass):
  • Berkeley Unified School District: $210 million
  • Emery Unified School District: $95 million
  • Knightsen Elementary School District: $5 million
  • Martinez Unified School District: $45 million
  • Ohlone Community College District: $349 million
  • Pittsburg Unified School District: $100 million
  • San Leandro Unified School District: $50.1 million
    Parcel taxes (require two-thirds approval to pass):
  • John Swett Unified School District: $96 per parcel
  • West Contra Costa Unified School District: 7.2 cents per square foot of building area, or $7.20 per vacant parcel
  • Bethel Island Municipal Improvement District: $252.29 per parcel
  • Berkeley Unified School District: 6.31 cents per square foot on residential buildings
  • Fremont Unified School District: $53 per parcel
  • Oakland Unified School District: $195 per parcel
  • City of Oakland: $360 per single-family home
    Other tax measures:
  • Sales tax increases (majority approval required) are being sought in Antioch, Concord, El Cerrito, San Leandro and Union City.
  • Utility users tax measures are on the ballots (majority approval required) in Albany, Newark, Pinole and Pleasant Hill.
  • Alameda County and the Contra Costa Transportation Authority are each seeking $10 vehicle registration fees (majority vote required) for road maintenance and transportation projects.
  • Information: Contra Costa County Elections Division, www.cocovote.us. Alameda County Registrar of Voters: www.acgov.org/rov.