In part, it is the result of some "massaging of numbers" which takes a 2016-17 educational rebate called "ERAF" and places it into the general fund as well as the anticipation of "excess" future real property tax dollars. But there is so much more to this financing issue that needs to be considered.
Measure A involves not only a great deal of fancy financial footwork, which constantly keeps one guessing, but also: a promise of no new taxes (yet a very clear reliance on a renewed parcel tax in 2018); the potential use of a mechanism used to raise funds called certificates of participation (which does not require any voter input); as well as proposed multiple alternative revenue sources which the council has decided to put off discussing until after Measure A has been decided. But again, that's not all.
First, in speaking with the person responsible for overseeing such large Sequoia Union High School projects as the M-A performing arts center and the proposed new high school off 101, he laughingly noted with regard to proposed project estimates, "never trust an architect."
The performing arts center was built during a superheated construction period in 2005-07 just as the high school (and this civic center) are being proposed in another hot building environment. During these periods, proposed costs and actual bids can be seriously out-of-whack. The arts center was proposed at $23 million; the bid/cost came in at $29 million — an increase of more than 25 percent. This is because there are simply not enough local welders, electricians and glass subcontractors, and their bids can come in at 20 to 40 percent over estimates.
Another example: Atherton recently sent to bid a road project at a Middlefield Road intersection projected to cost $330,000. The only two bids received were $570,000 and $700,000.
A civic center advisory vote hands the council a blank check no matter what the bids (expected next fall) look like.
Second, the civic center project not only contains numerous "add-ons" not shown in the projected costs (even those shown on April 5), including rather fundamental aspects of the project like solar and much of the landscaping, but also fails to include the cost of maintaining a considerably larger and more costly to maintain "green" building.
Finally, at least two sitting council members have privately noted that the cost of the civic center is likely to impact future capital improvement projects, particularly if the current parcel tax is not renewed. With the town poised to use or divert every spare dollar it can find to spend on this project in order to sell Measure A, what will happen to the town's other $72 million drainage, road, pension, health care, bike and pedestrian safe route needs (this figure the result of the town's own studies)? While the capital improvement budget looks relatively good this year (thanks in part to the $5.85 million attributable to the library) future years' capital improvements look very sketchy and uncertain.
Think about it. If done properly, a carefully drafted measure asking for a reversal of Measure L should first be formulated and the clear spending of public funds sought. A professional firm should consider all the costs associated with what was to have been a privately funded project and lay them out for the taxpayers to consider before voting.
Possible design alternatives such as a non-privately funded project should be considered. An assessment of why, despite best efforts, private funding efforts have resulted in a mere $7 million of funds raised when Portola Valley raised 85 percent of the cost of its center and came in 7 percent under budget should be evaluated with a thought given to perhaps looking to alternative efforts. The full impact of the unlimited amount of money to be spent should be carefully considered.
All this will take time and should not be rushed. There is a November election at which the renewed parcel tax is being considered for the ballot. Why not add this matter to it and give the taxpayers the full picture? This is called transparency.
This story contains 794 words.
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