21 Aug 2014
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Measure V Not Alone in Tax Measure Battles

Pacifica's Measure V is one of many measures on the ballot for San Mateo County residents. To pass, Measure V requires a majority vote.

Measure V Not Alone in Tax Measure Battles
By Bay City News Service

Tuesday's election in San Mateo County will determine funding for several schools and give residents a chance to weigh in on issues ranging from telecommunications, parcel and business taxes and liquid storage costs.

Many Pacifica residents have been hearing both sides of the debate on Measure V — an amended telecommunications tax that requires a majority vote. 

Under the proposal, a 6.5 percent tax would apply to all types of telecommunication, video communication, text messaging, and paging services, along with telephone, cellphone and voice over Internet protocol, or VOIP, services. There is a $500 maximum cap for businesses and exemptions for senior citizens. 

The tax would not apply to cable and Internet access and digital downloads. 

Those in favor of the tax have said the money will go toward police, fire and other city services and is limited by an eight-year expiration date. 

Opponents have rallied against the proposal with the Pacifica Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors siding with the opposition. 

In a letter from chamber board member Jim Wagner, he writes, "There is no argument that the City needs revenue, but the rush to put this measure on the ballot, as well as the lack of community awareness, involvement and discussion, has resulted in a poorly constructed measure not having 'buy in' from the community." 

The letter goes on, "Currently, residents and businesses pay a 6.5 percent utility tax to the city via their Pacific Gas and Electric bills. By expanding this tax to telephones and telecommunications, the total tax dollars charged to users is expected to increase by approximately 60 percent. 

"While businesses have a $500 tax cap, residents do not. A typical family of four could anticipate paying hundreds of dollars more per year for this tax," the letter claims. 

A group called "Pacificans Against Higher Utility Taxes" has formed, and claims on its Facebook page, "It has a $500 cap for businesses but no protection for regular Pacificans." 

To pass, Measure V requires a majority vote. 

In the San Mateo-Foster City School District there are dueling campaigns for and against a $130 million bond to address overcrowding at San Mateo and Foster City schools by rebuilding and renovating classrooms.

Measure P is a push to relieve overcrowding in schools that were built for 300 students that now serve more than 500 students. The proposal focuses on repairs and rebuilding efforts at Knolls Elementary School in San Mateo and Bowditch Middle School in Foster City.

Proponents of the bond claim the money will also help the school district upgrade technology and electricity systems at schools, and provide better facilities for a larger campus population.
At Bowditch, bond monies would go to adding a fifth grade to the middle school in what supporters call an "innovative two-campus-in-one" design in a brand-new building. Knolls Elementary School has sat shuttered but would be able to re-open with the funding to relieve overcrowding at other San Mateo schools, supporters say.

The "Yes on P" campaign has the support of state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, and San Mateo County Supervisor Carole Groom, among other elected representatives and local agencies.

School district board of trustee member Ellen Ulrich is behind the "No on P" campaign and hopes to bring the plans for a school bond back to the drawing board. "It's heavily skewed to one part of the community," Ulrich said.

She said the measure supports more upgrades in Foster City, and the money will not be evenly distributed based on population.

About 30 percent of the district resides in Foster City, with the rest in San Mateo, according to Ulrich.

"This bond measure is not well put together," she said, but noted that "doesn't mean that the entire community can't come up with a better plan."

She said a prior school bond measure, Measure L, which passed with more than 75 percent support in 2008, was divided equitably between the population centers.

The opposition has gained the support of San Mateo Mayor David Lim and Deputy Mayor Robert Ross, according to Ulrich.

"It's not about wanting these two communities to be divided," she said, instead it should be about improving "antiquated classrooms and facilities."

The measure requires 55 percent approval to pass.

Residents in the Belmont-Redwood Shores School District will be deciding on renewing two education parcel taxes for 10 years. The combined tax would continue to levy $174 per parcel, with an exemption for senior citizens, to fund schools.

Rahila Passi, a spokeswoman for the "Yes on Measure R" campaign, said in an email that Measure R "will continue to fund academic programs, retain teachers and support other programs like libraries, arts and music, just as it has done over the years."

She said the parcel tax is more crucial now that "the state has cut $8.5 million from our schools over the last five years — so our schools are educating more students with less money."

She continued, "If Measure R is not renewed, our schools will lose approximately $2.1 million in annual funding, resulting in cuts to our academic program."

An opposition campaign has formed that appears to be against more taxes for school district residents.

On the "No on R" group's Facebook page, opponents have said, "Citizens are tired of the wasteful spending by the inept (school) board. We need to stand up for our rights and say no more parcel taxes."

Carol Ford, a Redwood Shores resident not affiliated with any organized campaign, said the measure was "premature" because it does not consider other sources of potential money from the state or the fact that the district is currently operating with a surplus. She accused the current board of "scare tactics."

"I would like them to wait until we get a new school board, and let the new board determine what is actually needed," Ford said. "I'm hoping there will be some replacements on the board and that they will be more fiscally sound."

The parcel tax requires a two-thirds vote. The school district encompasses residents in Belmont and the community of Redwood Shores in Redwood City.

Brisbane residents are considering an increase on a business license tax for liquid storage facilities, such as the Kinder Morgan energy company on Tunnel Avenue in the city.

Brisbane Mayor Raymond Miller and city councilmembers W. Clarke Conway, Clifford Lentz, and Terry O'Connell have come out in support of the tax, which would set an increased rate of up to $115.28 per 1,000 cubic feet of liquid storage capacity.

Measure T requires a majority vote to pass.

The members of the City Council that support the measure said, "Over the past several years our community has experienced an unparalleled economic downturn. The loss of our biggest revenue producer, VWR, and decrease in property values have demonstrated our vulnerability to the volatility of the economy. We need to diversify our tax base."

VWR International distributes scientific and laboratory products.

The Measure T tax is expected to generate about $400,000. Opponents to the business tax are concerned about losing business in the city.

"Measure T is an unfair measure that increases a local business license tax by 400 times. At a time when too many businesses have left Brisbane and too much commercial space is vacant, Measure T sends the wrong message — that businesses aren't welcome in Brisbane," according to a statement from "No on Measure T" spokeswoman Jill Nelson Golub.

Other school bond measures are up for vote Tuesday in the Las Lomitas Elementary School District, which is comprised of residents from portions of Woodside, Menlo Park, Atherton, and Portola valley, and the Menlo Park City School District.

In Portola Valley residents are voting on reducing a utility tax from 5.5 percent to 4.5 percent for telephone, gas, water and electricity bills for the next four years.

Measure Q requires a majority vote to pass.

A parcel tax proposal in Atherton known as Measure X requires a two-third vote to continue for the next four years.

The tax would go toward funding police patrols, street repairs and drainage facility maintenance.

Foster City residents are deciding on Measure U, a business license tax that would go toward city services such as police, fire, parks, and repairs and maintenance. The tax on businesses requires a majority vote.

More information about the election in San Mateo County is available at shapethefuture.org.

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