PIEDMONT -- Measure Y, a proposed parcel tax for Piedmonters to maintain municipal services, passed by a slim margin in preliminary results for Tuesday's election.
Absentee ballots remain to be counted. The results are not final until certified by the Alameda County Registrar of Voters within a few days. That count would unlikely result in any change in the outcome.
The measure needed a two-thirds majority to pass. With all six precincts reporting, 3,250 votes were tallied supporting the measure, representing 68.7 percent of the vote. There were 1,481 votes against the measure, or 31.3 percent opposed.
The parcel tax will run funtil June 30, 2017. All the money generated is supposed to stay in Piedmont. The tax will raise about $1.63 million annually, to help pay for the cost of running a city -- from public safety to street and park maintenance and other essential city services. Vice Mayor Margaret Fujioka on Wednesday thanked constituents for their support of the parcel tax.
"Our message of the importance of renewing the parcel tax resonated with more than two-thirds of the voters, for which I am grateful," she said. "Piedmont is facing unprecedented financial challenges that must be met with strength and resolve but guided by principles of reason and fairness. I look forward to working with all stakeholders to strengthen our city's finances while maintaining the qualities that make Piedmont special."
Homeowners will see their tax bills rise by about $411 per year for the average-sized parcel, with larger parcels paying about $476, and owners of commercial properties 10,000 square feet or more paying $925. The current tax expires June 30.
Piedmonters have approved the municipal services tax for the past 32 years, but in this election vocal opponents said passage of the tax would allow the City Council to continue to overspend irresponsibly.
They pointed to the $2 million-plus bailout to complete the Piedmont Hills undergrounding project, $40 million in unfunded pension liability and thousands spent on legal fees and environmental studies for the aborted Blair Park plan.
Municipal Tax Review Committee chair Michael Rancer said Wednesday, "Of course, we are disappointed in the results, but we do feel that we brought public attention to the problem of poor management of Piedmont's city finances. We know many voters share our concerns.
"In the meantime, we believe the sizable number of 'no' votes is a sign of deep voter discontent. We encourage the council to proceed with urgency in implementing needed reforms as Vice Mayor Fujioka committed during the campaign, particularly when negotiating union contracts that expire within the next year. We stand ready to assist the council with its work."
Opponents claimed Piedmont has more firefighters than cities of comparable size, and that the council has not done enough to contain pension and benefit costs. The firefighters union countered that its crew is the right size to ensure quick response times to protect Piedmont's residents.
Proponents said support of the parcel tax was critical and pointed out that it provides 7 percent of the general fund budget. Piedmont needs the tax to continue to provide the level of service that Piedmonters expect, supporters said.
Mayor John Chiang said the cost is less than $9 per week for most households. Rejection would have caused drawing down the city's $2.8 million reserve, possible reduction of nine employees, salary cuts, reduced maintenance costs for parks, facilities and fields.
Five of the nine-member Municipal Tax Review Committee shifted their earlier support of Measure Y to oppose it while the other four members supported the parcel tax. Supporters included Chiang, committee member Steve Hollis, former Mayor Valerie Matzger, and Mary Geong and Bill Hosler of the Budget Advisory and Financial Planning Committee.
Opponents included previous council candidate Tim Rood, Rancer, Eric Lindquist, businessman Ryan Gilbert and UC Berkeley professor Ralph Catalano.