Berkeley officials must get real. City tax rates are excessive and debt is out of control. Yet, they want residents to pay more and burden future generations with additional financial liabilities.
For that reason, we urge voters to reject Measures M and N, bonds for road repairs and pool construction, respectively, and Measure O, for maintenance and operation of the pools.
There's nothing wrong with road repairs or pool construction per se. But at some point, city officials must start living within their budgets. If these are priority projects, city leaders need to decide what they are willing to give up.
Unfortunately, Berkeley leaders don't understand the concept of fiscal discipline. They don't recognize that they're making the city unaffordable for those who live there.
Consider the burden for a homeowner whose property is assessed at a city average $363,589. For starters, there's the baseline property tax of 1 percent of assessed value, or $3,636. The city gets an unusually large portion of that money.
Then add 43 percent for the animal shelter, fire equipment, fire protection, parks, sewer, streetlights, garbage disposal, libraries, paramedics, seismic improvements for public buildings, stormwater handling, and emergency disabled services. That brings the current annual property tax bill to $5,207.
That doesn't include charges for the local school, community college, regional parks and water districts, BART and AC Transit, to say nothing of special county fees.
Very little of that money goes toward paying down the outrageous $570 million city debt created by the underfunding of employee pension and retiree health programs -- a debt that works out to about $5,000 for every city resident.
City residents should say "enough." They already rejected the pool plan two years ago, but that didn't stop city leaders from trying again.
Now voters are being asked with Measure N to approve $19.4 million of bonds primarily to replace pools at West Campus and Willard Middle School. The 30-year repayment would start with a tax increase in 2013-14 of $9.55 per $100,000 assessed value, or $35 for the average homeowner.
Then there's the proposed tax for pool operation and maintenance, Measure O. It would be based on the size of each property. For an average 1,900-square-foot home, add another $14.80 a year.
Finally, Measure M would authorize $30 million of bonds for street improvements and "integrated green infrastructure such as rain gardens, swales, bioretention cells and permeable paving." It's unclear why residents should pay extra for street maintenance and repairs, which are generally considered primary city functions.
The bonds would be repaid over 30 years, starting with a tax increase in 2013-14 of $15.88 per $100,000 assessed value, or an average $58.
Thus, the three measures would add $108 annually for the average homeowner. Again, pools and roads might be good places to spend money, but at some point, city leaders need to prioritize spending with funds they already have. The time is now.