Las Lomitas district may seek $115 parcel tax hike
• Board president: "It's substantially less than we need."
Voters in the Las Lomitas Elementary School District are likely to have an opportunity in March to decide whether or not to raise their $196 school parcel tax by $115.
It's not as much as the Board of Trustees wanted — at least a $200 increase is needed to avoid program cuts in the two-school district — but a recent poll shows that the necessary two-thirds majority of voters won't tolerate that much of a jump.
"The big negative on (a $115 increase) is it is substantially less money than we need to maintain the current program, so we would have to do cuts," said board president David Bailard.
The board's meeting schedule and election deadlines will require a resolution and ballot measure at the board's Nov. 15 meeting. The measure will likely also ask voters for a small annual parcel tax increase to cover inflation — either at cost-of-living or a flat rate — and an "evergreen" provision that would renew the tax automatically unless the board repeals it.
The current parcel tax is set to expire in 2008. A March election would renew it a year early as well as increase it.
Even a $115 boost is likely to be an arduous campaign. The Sept. 19 survey by the San Ramon-based pollster, the Center for Community Opinion, showed that support falls below the two-thirds majority threshold with a tax increase of $98.
"We have a huge job for the campaign of educating the public," said Trustee Lee Anderson at the board's Oct. 18 meeting. Mr. Anderson served as a liaison to a subcommittee that, over the past few weeks, went over the survey results "very carefully" to arrive at $115. "We have wrung as much water from this rock as you can," he said.
The board saw too much complexity in a second option from the subcommittee that could have raised the tax to $394 by asking voters for a new $198 parcel tax in March, with a campaign to renew the current $196 tax in a 2008 election.
Gloria Principe, president of the Las Lomitas Education Foundation, wondered aloud whether a concerted effort to raise voters' consciousness of the district's needs could change the voters' tolerance for a higher tax.
The message from the polling data is that such a campaign would not work, Mr. Anderson replied.
Trustee Leslie Airola-Murveit agreed. A tax of $311 "is already a stretch," she said.
Among the advantages of a smaller tax increase: it shows voters exactly what is at stake and makes it clear that the budget doesn't have "a lot of fat" in it, Mr. Bailard said.