News - October 20, 2010

Election 2010: Sequoia Healthcare District slate wants to stop tax

NOTE: The Sequoia Healthcare District board, by a simple majority vote, could decide to transfer district revenues to another agency, according to Martha Poyatos of LAFCo. The district would not be refusing the revenues, as originally stated in this story. Also, the county's deputy controller, Kanchan Charan, subsequently changed his opinion that was expressed here about whether a majority on the board could reduce the tax. Check this subsequent story: By Dave Boyce, Almanac Staff Writer If a trio of candidates for the governing board of the Sequoia Healthcare District are elected, they pledge to try to stop collection of about one-tenth of 1 percent of property tax revenues from Atherton, Woodside, Menlo Park and Portola Valley.

That's the amount being collected for the heath-care district.

Using a formula provided by the county agency that oversees special districts, incumbent board member and Libertarian Jack Hickey proposes to lower property taxes by about $100 out of the $7,000 paid annually for every $700,000 in property value.

Mr. Hickey says his plan would first need a like-minded majority on the five-member board. On Nov. 2, voters would have to re-elect him and choose his two tax-averse companion candidates: Frederick A. Graham and Michael G. Stogner. The three are running as a slate.

While these fellows may think they can cut property taxes — and they have a May 2008 legal opinion from a lawyer for the district that says they can — they, in fact, can't cut the tax, said the county's deputy controller, Kanchan Charan.

Proposition 13 sets the property tax rate at 1 percent of assessed value, and at 1 percent it must remain. No higher, and no lower, Mr. Charan told The Almanac.

If a majority of the Sequoia Healthcare District board agreed, a resolution could be crafted to refuse to receive the district's revenues, said Martha Poyatos, the executive officer of San Mateo County LAFCo, the Local Agency Formation Commission. But the tax would not be reduced and the money would be distributed to other agencies in the county, she said.

The other candidates for the health-care district board are licensed social worker Ruth West-Gorrin, small business owner Alpio Barbara, incumbent board member Arthur J. Faro, and physician and former district board member Jerry Shefren.

False philanthropy?

The Sequoia Healthcare District, like all health care districts in the state, used to oversee a public hospital. The state Legislature changed the missions of these districts in 1994 to reflect an evolution of medical practice away from hospital services and toward outpatient services.

The Sequoia Healthcare District now funds regional programs such as low-cost or free clinics in Redwood City and unincorporated North Fair Oaks, and a program to restore nurses to public high schools and fund school gardens, health education and walk-to-school programs, outgoing board President Don Horsley told The Almanac.

In addition to stopping tax collection, Mr. Hickey would like to dissolve this district and set a precedent for the other districts in the state. Why? Because the Legislature's actions in the mid 1990s do not square with voter intentions in forming the hospital districts in the mid 1940s, he said.

"The district is running illegitimately," Mr. Hickey told The Almanac. "They lost their credibility when they sold their hospital."

The distribution of property tax revenues to local nonprofits is "false philanthropy," he added. "This sort of giving money that isn't (the district's). This is taxpayers' money. Unfortunately, the government has gotten in the way of true philanthropy."

Dissolution of the district is possible, but not without the approval of a majority of seven-member governing panel of LAFCo and a vote of the people, Ms. Poyatos said. (The LAFCo panel includes two county supervisors, two city or town council members, two board members of special districts and one at-large public member.)


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