Atherton's City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to put a three-year renewal of the town's parcel tax on the Nov. 7 ballot.
The terms of the tax, which the town has had since 1978, will remain the same except the measure will be for only three years instead of the maximum four-year term. The tax costs the average homeowner $750 a year.
Passage requires that at least two-thirds of voters approve it.
Council members said the shorter term will put future renewals on the ballot in presidential election years, when voter turnout is historically higher and the town's proportional share of the election cost is lower.
In addition, said Councilmember Rick DeGolia, it is possible that in three years – when the new civic center ought to be completed – the town may be in the financial position to forgo renewing the parcel tax.
"I think at that point we'd have a very good perspective on where we're at" with paying for the civic center and the town's finances, he said.
The existing and proposed parcel taxes vary by parcel size and use. For homes on the average Atherton lot of between a half and two acres, the tax is $750 per year. The tax is as low as $225 for unimproved parcels between a quarter and half acre, and it's as high as $10,000 for a private club.
The tax brings the town annual revenues of $1.86 million. Its proceeds can only be spent on the town's police services and on its roads and drainage system. The current parcel tax expires in mid-2018, and the proposed tax will expire June 30, 2021.
"Every penny of it goes directly to police services and road and drainage repairs," Councilmember Elizabeth Lewis said. The tax proceeds can't go into the town's general fund "for salaries or construction of the civic center," she said.
Council members also emphasized that while the town gets only about nine cents of every property tax dollar paid by Atherton residents, it get the entire proceeds of the parcel tax.
Four years is the maximum term of a municipal parcel tax under state law. The parcel tax, which can pass only if at least two-thirds of voters approve it, had 78 percent voter approval in 2009 and 73 percent approval in 2013.
No one from the public spoke at a public hearing on the measure.
The vote to put the tax on the ballot was 4-0, with Councilman Bill Widmer absent.
The ballot wording will read: “To continue providing funding to maintain neighborhood police patrols and the Town’s ability to respond to emergencies, repairing and maintaining streets, and repairing and constructing storm drains, shall an ordinance be adopted to continue a Special Parcel Tax for three years and allowing for the expenditure of funds derived from such tax?”
Mayor Mike Lempres and Councilwoman Lewis will craft a ballot argument in favor of the measure. A special meeting will be held at 8 a.m. Friday, July 28, for the council to approve the wording of that argument.
The deadline to submit the measure to the county for inclusion on the Nov. 7 ballot is Aug. 18.