West Contra Costa is the only East Bay school district seeking voter approval of two tax measures on the November ballot. One is reasonable; the other an outrageous deception.
Currently, district property owners pay three school levies on top of their base tax. Two are for operations, one for school construction. The average property owner spends about $708 a year for all three -- in a district with some of the region's poorest residents.
Measure G would extend the expiration date from 2014 to 2019 for one of the parcel taxes for operations. The tax, 7.2 cents per square foot, works out to $98 for an average-size home.
We support that extension. It's the fourth time since 2010 that the district has put a measure on the ballot to raise operating revenues. We opposed the last three because they tried to increase tax rates. This one would merely extend the status quo.
Measure E is entirely different. The district seeks voter approval for a $360 million bond program. The official ballot information from County Counsel Sharon Anderson and district Superintendent Bruce Harter notes that would increase property tax rates. Anderson says it could be as much as $60 per $100,000 of assessed value; Harter estimates it will be $48 per $100,000.
They both should be ashamed. It's not what they tell you; it's what they leave out.
They don't mention that since 1998 voters have approved five other bond measures for construction. During a 10-year period through 2009, no K-12 district in the state except much larger San Diego and Los Angeles had issued as many school construction bonds as West Contra Costa.
They don't tell you that district homeowners will soon be paying annual taxes of more than $240 for every $100,000 of assessed value to retire bonds already approved. Add in Measure E and the rate jumps to $290 in a few years.
They don't mention $797 million in bonds currently outstanding, or $357 million more already authorized by voters. Add it up and voters are potentially on the hook for $1.15 billion -- plus interest.
Anderson and Harter don't mention that the district projects repayment of the latest bonds will stretch through 2053, a 40-year commitment. Because of the long payoff, the interest costs will be higher than for any other East Bay district currently seeking voter bond approval.
Taxpayers will eventually pay back three dollars for every dollar borrowed. For comparison, the ratio for a homeowner taking out a typical mortgage in today's market would be less than 2-to-1.
District leaders say they need the additional bond money to complete their school construction program. That's what they said 2½ years ago for the last bond measure. They claimed then that they needed more because rising construction costs had eroded their purchasing power. In today's economy, that excuse won't work.
We endorsed the successful 2010 measure. But we warned that would be the last time. We meant it. As far as we are concerned, this train has run out of track. Vote no on Measure E.
For more information, go to insidebayarea.com/endorsements or contracostatimes.com/endorsements for the district tax rate projections.