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September 3, 2008 > Union City voters hold key to future of public safety

Union City voters hold key to future of public safety

By Simon Wong

On Wednesday, August 6, Council members decided four-to-one in favor of a modified, enhanced, successor public-safety measure to the 2004 Measure K Parcel Tax to be placed on the November 2008 ballot.

Measure UU, as the successor Measure is known, essentially retains the base tax rates contained in the 2004 Measure K, which will expire in March 2009, but has been enhanced by raising $500,000 per annum targeted at programs to combat youth violence.

The 2009 Measure UU will have an annual Consumer Price Index (CPI) cap of 2% and a life of eight years. This equates to a monthly increase in the parcel tax of $1.44 - $1.61 for most single-family residential parcels, $0.99 per unit for multi-family residential parcels and $3.43 - $109.85 for non-residential parcels.

There will be exemptions for owners of vacant parcels and for low income residential property owners and partial exemptions for owners of developed, vacant commercial property.

Representatives and members of The Youth Violence Prevention Coalition turned out in force and accounted for most of the community present at the meeting. The Coalition includes Filipinos for Affirmative Action (FAA), Congregations Organising for Renewal (COR), The Union City Pastors' Alliance, Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church and St. Anne's Catholic Church.

The public had the floor for almost an hour during which there were many heartfelt pleas and impassioned requests from the youth community for a 2009 Measure that would include funding for youth violence prevention and intervention programs. The Coalition delivered the clear message that its members and associates would not support a public-safety Measure that did not provide for the City's youth.

Other individuals had the opportunity to plead their case. Seniors, in receipt of fixed or low incomes, were against an enhancement of the parcel tax. Others regarded continuity of public safety as the primary issue given the absence of a successor Measure to the original 2004 Measure K. There was concern about what might happen if police and fire services were scaled back. One speaker stated that crime does not stop because the economy is in the doldrums. Everyone agreed, however, that young people deserve a safe environment in which to grow and learn.

"The provision of programs, such as mentoring, working-in-schools, bullying-prevention, drug and alcohol-avoidance, benefits the whole community," said Diane Gates-Anderson, Chair, Human Relations Commission.

The Youth Violence Prevention Coalition and its supporters were delighted with the Council's decision. This does not mean, however, that they are guaranteed funding. The 2009 Measure UU must secure approval from two-thirds of the voters on November 4, 2008.

In June 2008, the City presented an enhanced, successor Measure K with a twenty-year term and a CPI cap of 3% to generate an additional $2 million of revenue for public safety, emergency preparedness and youth violence prevention and intervention programs. It narrowly missed the two-thirds' voter approval required to pass.

Consequently, the City does not currently have a voter-approved, successor Measure that ensures continued funding for the police and fire departments, as a minimum, when the 2004 Measure K expires early next year.

Critically, a week after the Council's Special Meeting and several days after the deadline for receipt of November 2008 ballot Measures by the Alameda County Registrar of Voters (ROV), the California Supreme Court denied the City's petition for a review of the First District Court of Appeal's April 2008 ruling that the City's 911 fee is a special tax that was imposed unconstitutionally without the requisite two-thirds' voter approval. The original ruling will be published.

The fee, which was introduced in 2003 to upgrade and maintain the City's emergency response system, will be abolished in Fall or Winter 2008. This will mean an annual reduction of approximately $2.7 million in revenue plus refunds that could amount to the same figure. The City will make known the refund process in due course.

Union City Council Members have canvassed assiduously since June 2008, listened to voters and considered their arguments, against the backdrop of a worsening economy. The feedback suggests that voters wish to see current levels of public safety maintained and many would like an expansion of emergency preparedness and a reduction in youth violence.

The cost of police and fire services has escalated since the current Measure K was passed in 2004. It now exceeds the funds and revenue generated from all other available sources dedicated to public safety, including Measure K. An increase in the parcel tax rates would be necessary to maintain current levels comfortably. A further enhancement would be required to adequately cover the cost of additional services.

Before deciding the form of a successor parcel tax for the November 2008 ballot, Council Members balanced existing Measure K funding commitments with the interests of those who wish to see expanded services and, in turn, with the general concerns of the electorate. At the time of the Special Meeting, options were weighed in the context of the narrow failure of the June 2008 Measure K, the undecided outcome of the City's 911 case and what would be acceptable to the majority of voters.

The Council considered four options for a 2009 Measure with the discretion to vary the term, the amount of revenue enhancement and the CPI cap.

Option 1. Continuation of the existing Public Safety Parcel Tax, with no rate increases in the first year (2009/2010) other than the Consumer Price Index (CPI) adjustments described by the current 2004 Measure K. The new Measure would have a six to ten-year life. Future, annual tax increases would be in line with the CPI, which is currently about 3.8%, with no cap.

Option 2. Maintain the current level of funding under Measure K with an additional $500,000 to allow implementation of youth violence prevention and intervention programs. The new Measure would be extant for ten years and have an annual CPI cap of 2%. There would be no CPI adjustment for the first year (2009/2010). [This is the proposed 2009 Measure UU with a reduced term of eight years].

Option 3. Enhance the Public Safety Parcel Tax by increasing rates, but 10% lower than those in the failed June 2008 Measure K, to raise an additional $1.52 million. A new Measure would have a ten-year term and an annual CPI cap of 2%. There would be no CPI adjustment for the first year (2009/2010).

This equates to an extra $3.77 - $4.22 per month for most residential parcels and to $410.65 per month for the largest commercial parcels.

Option 4. Enhance the Public Safety Parcel Tax with the same rate increases that were proposed for the June 2008 Measure K to raise additional revenue of $2million ($1million for police department, $400,000 for fire services, $500,000 to combat youth violence, $100,000 for emergency preparedness). A new Measure would last for ten years and have an annual CPI cap of 2%. There would be no CPI adjustment for the first year (2009/2010).

This increases the tax by $5.06 - $5.67 per month for most residential parcels and by $523 per month for the largest commercial parcels.

In all cases of an enhanced parcel tax, there would be no CPI adjustment in the first year of the new parcel tax. So, the rates for 2009/2010 will reflect only the amount of the enhancement and not the CPI plus the enhancement.

The proposed 2009 Measure UU includes something for the City's youth and contributes to public-safety. Failure to pass would lead to substantial cuts in other essential public services to shore up funding for police and fire services. Loss of the 911 revenue exacerbates the situation. The State Supreme Court's decision means that the City must now re-balance its 2009/2010 budget and identify where savings might be made to recoup $2.7 million plus anticipated refunds of the 911 fee.

A revised Measure could not appear on a Special Election ballot until June 2009. Only two are permitted in a twelve-month period. Should the 2009 Measure UU fail in November and compound the loss of 911-revenue, voters could face a Special Election for a general tax to provide some public-safety funding. Recent poll findings suggest that the majority of Union City residents dislike the idea of a general tax, such as a Utility User Tax, as an alternative to the parcel tax.

The nomenclature of ballot measures is managed by the Alameda County Registrar of Voters (ROV) at each election. The ROV assigns the letter "A" and continues to the end of the alphabet before starting to use double letters "AA" to "ZZ." Letters are allocated first to school-district measures, then to municipal measures in alphabetical order by city (Alameda... Union City) and then to special-district measures. This naming convention is used for one calendar year and reverts to single letters at the start of each subsequent year. Hence the apparent "re-naming" of the 2009 public-safety parcel tax, Measure UU. It was coincidence that the failed June 2008 Measure K was assigned the same letter as the original 2004 Measure K.

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