Parcel tax could raise $3-$6 per year for public safety

Three of the last four San Leandro municipal elections have included at least one revenue-generating tax measure. On Monday, the San Leandro City Council set the initial stages for another. This time a potential parcel tax on the November ballot focused on public safety.

The council unanimously supported giving city staff direction to begin polling in order to gauge public interest for enacting a parcel tax that funds various public safety-related needs, including fire station modernization, vehicle and medical equipment for firefighters, upgrades to the city’s public safety building near City Hall, and the purchase of radios for the police department that allows interoperability with the regional emergency network. The parcel tax could also include funding to hire new firefighters and police officers.

The potential parcel tax could range between $65 and $140, paid annually by homeowners and commercial property owners, and raise between $3 million and $6 million in additional revenues, said Deputy Assistant Manager Eric Engelbart. Although, he urged, “These are back of the napkin estimates.”

Yet, despite the outcome of Monday’s vote, some councilmembers, including Mayor Pauline Russo Cutter, voiced skepticism about the timing of the proposed parcel tax. “This is an idea we need to support,” said Cutter. “I’m not sure it needs to be done now.”

An anticipated spike in pension and benefits costs should be incorporated into a parcel tax, Cutter added. In addition, feedback from the public suggests the city allows the San Leandro Unified School District, which is contemplating its own parcel tax this fall, to go first, said Cutter, along with sentiments that the council should be more fiscally responsible.

Councilmember Corina Lopez disagreed, saying an economic downturn within the next two years will make it less likely that San Leandro voters will approve a similar parcel tax. “The timing is now or near-term,” said Lopez. “I doesn’t make sense to postpone at this time.”

The tight time frame for city staff to conduct the groundwork for a potential parcel tax, including polling, analysis, and creating a campaign in time for the November election cycle, is also a concern. “It’s a more complex task and we would want to do it in a way that is fair, equitable and defensible under the law,” said Interim City Manager Jeff Kay.

The filing deadline for inclusion of candidates and ballot measures on the November ballot is Aug. 10. And since the San Leandro City Council, like many East Bay cities, recess during the month of August, the window, in reality, gives city staff just over two months to complete its analysis.

Since 2010, San Leandro voters have been generous at the ballot box, passing a sales tax increase that year, followed by a renewal of the tax four years later. Two years ago, a trio of revenue-generating taxes were approved. But passing a parcel tax might be more difficult based on past results. A parcel tax in 2004 intending to maintain existing public safety funding, gained 50.5 percent of the vote, far lower than the requisite two-thirds majority needed for passage.