COST Says Yes on Measure J

The Coalition of Sensible Taxpayers Urges
Vote YES on Measure J

Tamalpais Union High School District
$149 Annual 4-Year Supplemental Parcel Tax

The Coalition of Sensible Taxpayers encourages voting YES on Measure J, a supplemental $149 annual parcel tax. Measure J would expire in June 30, 2022, simultaneously with the existing $294 annual parcel tax. Both escalate 3% annually. Funds support southern Marin high schools Redwood, Tamalpais, Drake, Tamiscal, and San Andreas.

While it’s unusual for a taxpayer group to endorse a parcel tax, CO$T’s board believes the reasons for doing so in this instance are compelling… and meet many of our Sensible Tax criteria:

 

Urgent need. Tam Union is operating under a Marin County Office of Education warning of potential insolvency resulting from operating deficits and falling reserves. Without Measure J, Tam Union will have to cut up to an additional $5 million in annual expenses (beyond significant cuts that are already underway).

Modest levy. The $149 supplemental amount is not large by Marin standards. The tax won’t solve Tam Union’s financial woes. It will provide breathing room to make less Draconian cuts to school programs.

Short leash. Both the existing and proposed supplemental tax expire in 4 years. We expect the district to put a renewal measure before voters in 2020 (leaving time for a second try if voters say No). By then, we’ll know a lot more about the how well new district leadership is balancing costs, educational priorities, and the need to rebuild reserves.

New management. The prior Superintendent and Chief Financial Officer have departed and been replaced via the promotion of two well-respected district veterans. We give them a preliminary vote of confidence. New leadership should have a chance to reset spending priorities without the extra burden of budget cuts even sharper than those already on tap.

New board. Three of the five incumbent board members are retiring, leaving three openings to be filled via the November ballot (there are four candidates). Two current board members (whose terms expire in two years) are staying, providing some continuity and knowledge. Let’s see what the new board, which may include some newcomers with financial acumen, can deliver.

Streamlining. New initiatives are already underway: Top management positions consolidated; more shared services; supplies cut; reduced cafeteria offerings; cancelled additional portable classrooms. Next moves being studied.

CFAC. Tam District seems receptive to our recommendation of forming a small Community Financial Advisory Committee of financially astute district residents to explore best practices and strategies to improve the district’s long-term financial health. CO$T believes it’s important to get advice from a team of independent experts.

Transparent. Tam Union’s online parcel tax information provides fair disclosure of the factors contributing to the district’s financial challenges, including rising enrollment and state-mandated pension contributions. Tam Union consistently does a superior job of keeping the broader community informed and involved. All board meetings are video taped and posted to the district website. On-line board minutes and agendas are complete, including all relevant staff reports, presentations, and documents.

Inclusive election. Tam Union intentionally chose a general election for Measure J. This ensures that the largest number of voters will weigh in on the parcel tax (rather than a special all-mail off-cycle ballot in which district parents and tax-exempt seniors comprise a large share of the ballots cast).

CO$T has some reservations about endorsing Measure J:

Regressive. Parcel taxes hurt small condo and home owners, who pay the same amount as large apartment complexes and malls. The increasing number and amount of parcel taxes (and bond measures tied to property value) are a significant factor in Marin becoming unaffordable to existing home owners. CO$T continues to urge that school districts work with legal advisers and state legislators to clarify schools’ ability to use fairer, alternative parcel taxes (based on per square foot or per dwelling unit).

Insolvency risk. The district plans to use Measure J supplemental parcel tax revenues to avert further cuts in academic programs, on-campus services, and perhaps employee benefits. We would like to see a portion of the $149 supplemental tax directed each year to gradually rebuilding badly depleted reserves. Tam Union is very vulnerable to becoming truly insolvent during the next slowdown of the economy and real estate property taxes. It’s prudent to start putting money back into reserves now.

Disappoint some CO$T supporters. It’s unusual for a voter-taxpayer group to endorse a tax. That said, we never pledged to oppose every tax. We believe in Sensible taxes that are truly necessary to support vital services. We’ve laid out the criteria and believe that four short years of Measure J is a reasonable compromise within that framework.

 

COST Says Yes on Measure J
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