CO$T Unveils Big 2021 Plans, Seeks Your Help
In 2021, CO$T is gearing up for growth, building on our 2020 successes in helping Marin taxpayers and ratepayers. We’ll be significantly augmenting our leadership team, taking on more projects, and keeping you better informed.
For next-stage success, CO$T needs YOUR financial support to fund improved software, communications platforms and administrative efficiency. Please contribute what you can. There are lots of options on our donate page including a Donate Now PayPal button as well as instructions for checks, appreciated stock, and donor advised funds. Some of the giving opportunities are tax deductible.
Keep reading for the full reveal of CO$T’s 2020 activities, what comes next, and a variety of interesting volunteer opportunities that fit your skills and time.
In 2020, CO$T’s expert analysis and advocacy helped make local tax and fee proposals more fair and transparent — and played a significant role in whether they passed or failed to be enacted. We also further advanced our lawsuit against Marin Municipal Water District’s illegal rates imposed in 2019.
CO$T scored three major victories in the March 2020 election.
SMART sales tax renewal defeated. CO$T led the Marin part of a successful bi-county effort to defeat the SMART train’s proposed 39 year sales tax extension. We scored a historic first in securing a “Vote NO on Measure I” opposition endorsement from the usually pro-tax Marin IJ. In another first for CO$T, our No On I eblast reached, and was read by, a large percentage of voters countywide.
Tam Union High School Parcel Tax Increase defeated. CO$T wrote the arguments against TUHSD Measure B – a parcel tax renewal with a 50% increase — published in the voter information booklet. Our argument centered on our financial analysis showing that with sharply falling enrollment, more money was not needed. We echoed that message in lawn signs, eblasts to district voters, op-ed contributions, and social media posts.
CO$T-Advocated Changes Key to Wildfire Tax Passage. CO$T played a central role in the design and passage of a funding measure for the new Marin Wildfire Prevention Authority. County leadership’s initial proposal featured a per square foot parcel tax, a novel funding mechanism CO$T has been demanding as most equitable. However, we strongly opposed initial plans for a perpetual tax that would never need to be re-approved. CO$T’s advocacy was instrumental in getting elected officials to rally behind our alternative of a 10 year sunset. Having achieved our desired changes, and recognizing the urgency of coordinated county-wide fire prevention, CO$T threw its weight behind the tax measure, which passed by a solid margin.
November 2020 Election:
CO$T successfully advocated against a Tam Union parcel tax increase. In a second try at renewing its expiring parcel tax, Tam Union initially planned to put TWO measures on the November ballot – a straight renewal plus a big new supplemental tax. We argued that the supplemental measure, which we opposed as unneeded, would fail and probably sink the much-needed renewal. The board finally elected to seek only a renewal and we in turn took a neutral stance (neither endorse nor oppose). The tax measure passed, ending years of funding turmoil.
CO$T Coalition Failed to Defeat San Rafael Sales Tax Increase. CO$T opposed a San Rafael ¼ cent sales tax increase measure as an unfortunate added burden during the current recession and because the tax doesn’t address the underlying problem of sizeable unfunded pension liabilities squeezing city services. One tactical success was our ability to put together a diverse coalition of community leader co-signers to our Arguments Against the tax that appeared in the voter information booklet. Such coalitions are a hallmark of CO$T’s strategy and we are confident that such alliances and relationships will underpin future successes
Candidates – CO$T carefully vetted and endorsed a small number of elected office candidates who share CO$T’s values. Our support helped gain a seat on the College of Marin Board for Paul da Silva, a recently retired COM professor whose campaign highlighted important opportunities for positive change. CO$T-endorsed challengers for MMWD and TUHSD were not successful, but it’s encouraging to see challengers willing to step up. We’re optimistic of greater future success for CO$T-backed candidates as we ramp up our efforts.
Webinars – CO$T hosted a well-received inaugural webinar featuring statewide leaders of the pro- and con- campaigns for proposition 15 (split roll tax initiative increasing commercial property taxes). Future CO$T webinars will keep our supporters informed and engaged.
Helping community groups protect democracy. – In flood zone 7, CO$T’s objection letter and pressure convinced Marin County to abandon plans to levy a sizeable benefit assessment against Santa Venetia residents via special election. CO$T asserted that the proposal was an end run around the 2/3 vote needed to pass an unpopular parcel tax measure… and would have established a dangerous precedent for other special districts. Precedents matter at CO$T, which is one reason for us to step in.
Helping Marinites Reduce their Local Tax and Fee Bills
CO$T’s supporters gave us lots of positive feedback for our spring 2020 eblast with information about how to apply for local tax and fee exemptions and discounts available for senior, disabled, and low income Marin residents. We plan to expand on this informational outreach and make it an annual public service communication.
Supporters also appreciated our effort to get Marin County to waive late payment penalties for those financially stressed by the pandemic. The county resisted our call to make such waivers available prior to tax day. However, they did subsequently expand late payment penalty waivers to include financial hardship for those who had failed to pay on time.
Legal and Oversight Actions
CO$T’s vigilance is proving a successful check on local agencies and has a broader warning effect. With input from our legal team, we’re sending letters of legal objection to local agencies and follow through as appropriate.
MMWD – Multiple Issues: CO$T continues to challenge the legality of Marin Municipal Water District’s new meter-size-based capital maintenance fees (first appeared in September 2019 bills). In August 2020 we advanced our prior claim to a class action suit seeking to invalidate the unfair rate structure and compensate those harmed. We’re keeping a close eye on what may be another big meter-based rate increase. CO$T’s pressure HAS already achieved victories for improved transparency: after years of Directors’ resistance, we finally succeeded in getting MMWD to approve videotaping all public meetings; and CO$T’s formal complaint forced more accurate public notices of meetings that we charged violated California’s Brown Act (sunshine law). We recently sent a letter to MMWD objecting to a board resolution authorizing spending up to nearly $1,900 monthly for each part-time elected Director’s family health insurance; this is very unusual in Marin and, we believe, undermines Directors’ independent oversight responsibility, as they become effectively district employees and are incentivized to overstay through multiple terms.
Marin County building permit fees. CO$T formally objected to an initial proposal to more than double many Marin County building permit fees, on the grounds that the county had failed to provide legally-required data justifying the individual fees. The county withdrew its proposal and did the analysis, which resulted in smaller increases in building permit fees.
Marin County building permit road impact fee. CO$T has notified Marin County that the 1% road impact fee it adds to building permits violates CA law. County officials have promised to look into this. But there’s no change so far. We’ll press in 2021 for full rollback of the fee. If you (or someone you know) have had a building project that required a county permit, this most likely required paying this fee. Please contact us immediately to discuss joining an effort to stop, and perhaps recoup, collection of such fees.
Illegal Mass Mailings at Public Expense – Tam Union High School District and beyond: – California’s Fair Political Practices Commission is stepping up enforcement of the statutory prohibition of the use of public money for campaign mass mailings and other political communications. CO$T recently filed an FPPC complaint alleging that Tamalpais Union High School District’s multiple mailers for its 2020 parcel tax campaigns were an inappropriate use of public funds. While CO$T has supported, opposed, and been neutral on one or another of TUHSD’s various tax measures, we strongly object to the district’s diversion of public money to the mailers that we believe are political. Our FPPC complaint aims to cease this practice at Tam Union. It also signals our intent to closely monitor various Marin agencies’ future expenditures of public funds on communications related to tax and fee increases and renewals.
Exciting Future Plans: CO$T is changing dramatically—Contribute your time, skills or money!
Enhanced communication. We’re committed to keeping you even better informed and engaged. To do this, we need a better platform and efficiency. We are evaluating new client relationship management systems and integrating those with improved electronic communication and publication platforms. Better technology enables us to inform you, on a more timely and regular basis, about urgent unfolding events. We’ll also be able to receive and reply to your input more readily; and get better community involvement in important projects. Your financial contribution will enable this vital next phase of CO$T’s growth.
Candidate development and issue advocacy. With better infrastructure, people resources, and lead time, CO$T expects to be more effective in helping elect candidates committed to serving Marin’s citizens’ general interests – as opposed to the special interests that commonly control our elected officials. Let us know if you are interested in running for office or helping out.
Developing a network of agency monitors. CO$T aims to have volunteers dedicated to monitoring each major Marin agency and jurisdiction. Each monitor will be responsible for reading the agendas and staff reports of a particular agency – providing us with an early heads up of anything of possible interest to CO$T leaders and supporters. This shouldn’t take more than 2-4 hours per month and is an extremely valuable contribution. To find out more, email here, and mention where you live.
Bolstering our Leadership and Project Expertise. Professional expertise and public service experience underpins CO$T’s success and credibility. We are proud of our board and advisors’ resumes and capabilities. In 2021, we plan to tap additional individuals with specific skills or knowledge to augment our leadership team on the board and/or project teams. This is a great opportunity to work with some or Marin’s most engaged citizens. Contact us if you’re interested.
Join our social media web – We’re assembling a roster of folks committed to helping amplify CO$T’s message via Nextdoor, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Contact us to join or help lead a social media team.
Citizen Oversight Committees – More and more agencies are asking CO$T to provide representatives for committees that oversee Marin public agencies and tax measure expenditures. Our leadership’s service on oversight committees includes Transportation Authority of Marin, San Rafael Schools, College of Marin, Marin Wildfire Prevention Authority, and (historically) Mill Valley Schools. Let us know if you’re willing to serve on a COC. This is a valuable contribution that isn’t hugely time consuming.
Last but NOT Least: Supporter recruitment – Encourage your friends and neighbors – via social media or an email — to sign up for CO$T’s informative eblasts and alerts. We gain strength from numbers.
CO$T Demands Emergency Measure Closing Tax Collection Office
The Coalition of Sensible Taxpayers demands that Marin County Supervisors immediately declare a public health emergency that includes closing the county tax collection cashier window now through at least May 8 (with further extensions as appropriate). Doing so protects the health and safety of taxpayers who pay in person (to ensure timely payment and receive receipts) and also of public employees of the county tax office.
Importantly, this declaration of a public health emergency provides vital protection to our most financially vulnerable homeowners. Unlike county employees, many homeowners are now without a paycheck. For some families, paying property taxes on April 10 means they’ll be unable to buy food or pay for water and electricity; some will incur stiff penalties by choosing to pay for food and utilities instead of property taxes. YOU alone, as Supervisors, have the ability to provide a solution: Under California Revenue and Taxation Code section 2619, if the tax collector’s office is closed on tax day, late payment penalties cannot be charged. Any taxes due will be considered as paid on time so long as they are paid on the first business day after the tax collector’s office reopens.
Keep Reading! Learn What We’ve Accomplished & What comes Next.
COST is almost two years old! CO$T’s achievements to date have built our renown, opening the door to greater advocacy clout and public service as Marin Taxpayers’ Voice.
We’re hosting highly popular public events.
In 2019, we’ll host two or more community events:
A CO$T Town Hall Gathering to celebrate our successes, share our future plans, and invite community help.
One or two more in our popular CO$T Forum series. Preeminent guest speakers analyze hot-button issues facing taxpayer-voters.
CO$T’s educational public meetings bring attention to the impact on school funding, public services and taxes/fees resulting from underfunded pensions and dysfunctional fiscal policy. Our CO$T Forum series (with professional event videos posted to our website) has featured notable guest speakers:
David Crane – Govern for California President
Joe Nation – Stanford Pension Tracker Project President
Jon Coupal – Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association President
We’re Bird-Dogging Fee Increases on Essential Services, such as Marin Municipal Water District rates:
Researched and publicized exceptionally high expenses passed through to MMWD ratepayers including $183,000 average full-time employee compensation and the extraordinary part-time Board Director perk of $21,500 yearly health care insurance.
Led a ratepayer protest that achieved a rollback of a 7% water rate hike slated for 2018.
Continue to press for greater accountability to ratepayers.
We’re Working for Good Priorities and Fiscal Solvency at Tam Union High School District (Tam, Redwood, Drake)
CO$T led a successful effort to get the district to drop contemplated plans for a $300 million bond measure for new facilities — and instead urgently prioritize eliminating operating deficits. We supported a short-term parcel tax, Measure J, which coupled with cost cuts, should help restore fiscal solvency.
We continue to press for actions that will ensure long-term financial and educational stability. We urge the district convene a small fiscal advisory panel of independent financial experts and dedicate a portion of Measure J revenues to boost reserves.
We’re a Voice for Transparency, Fiscal Responsibility and Appropriate Process: San Geronimo Golf course collaboration
CO$T sounded the alarm about increased fire risk and Marin County’s misuse of process and county funds in its planned golf course purchase.
We assisted San Geronimo Advocates in petition signature gathering for a ballot initiative to require a popular vote prior to any change in the golf course’s land use designation.
Now that the county has terminated plans to spend taxpayer funds for golf course purchase, we continue to advocate against any land use designation change by the county without a process that’s legal, transparent, and inclusive.
We’re Building an Organization for Long-term Impact
Strength in numbers – we now have nearly 1300 readers of our regular informational eblast alerts. Decision-makers pay attention to our numerical clout. Sign up here.
IRS approved CO$T as a 501(c)4 tax-exempt social welfare entity that can engage in political advocacy. The “donate” button on the COSTMarin.org website attracts contributions from many supporters.
IRS approved the CO$T Foundation as a 501(c)3 tax-exempt entity focusing on research and education. The Foundation is supported by tax-deductible contributions from individuals and donor advised funds. Learn more here.
Improved outreach: we are beefing up website, social media, and marketing
Bolstering board, project committees, and vital functions with quality volunteers. To explore how you can help email
CO$T ensures Marin taxpayers’ concerns are heard:
Local media regularly quote our expert insights in their news coverage and publishes our op/ed pieces on matters of concern to taxpayer-voters
CO$T joins with other state and regional groups opposing bills and ballot measures adverse to Marin taxpayers’ interests.
We partner with other local citizen groups on issues affecting Marin taxpayer-voters.
We’re Building relationships and impact with local jurisdictions. Jurisdictions are now soliciting CO$T’s early input on contemplated tax, fee, and spending proposals. This cooperative approach results in proposals that are more fair, transparent, and fiscally responsible.
CO$T is spearheading efforts for more equitable tax and fee structures such as:
Alternative parcel taxes based on number of residential units or building square footage. This is fairer than a tax that is the same for a mansion or a hut.
Short tax/fee duration, aligned with concrete use. CO$T is working to ensure new taxes don’t go on past the identifiable use/need.
Learning from Experience
While we haven’t won every contest, we’re quickly gaining valuable experience and amassing skills we can profitably put to future use.
Transportation Authority of Marin – CO$T authored the ballot argument against the 2018 30 year transportation sales tax Measure AA: it’s too long and lacks a clear plan. While the measure passed, we had important accomplishements:
Formed unique trans-partisan alliance with a range of citizen activists. This could be an effective model for future activities.
Amplified message: We’ve gotten experience with lawn signs, social media boosts and online ads.
Had a dry run for future contests…. Our Measure AA experience taught us about which buttons to push, what we need to do better, what resources to recruit.
Kentfield, Lagunitas, and Dixie school parcel tax measures – These also passed over our objections. But we’re successfully getting the word out that districts should consider fairer alternative parcel tax structures…. AND that we will oppose any off-cycle special election tax measure.
What’s ahead for 2019 and beyond:
Potential ground-breaking initiative: We’re working collaboratively with other concerned groups, across ideological lines, to seek sustainable solutions to the pension crowd-out problem.
Building project: We’re beefing up CO$T’s leadership, infrastructure, supporter base, and strategies for 2020 (elections & tax measures now cluster in even years).
Our CO$T Foundation 501(c)3 will do more deep dive research and public events (including a membership gathering). This is our power alley.
Our CO$T 501(c)4 will be fundraising to fill coffers for 2020 campaigns… and building our people and skill sets for more effective political campaigns.
We’ll continue to grow our reputation as credible and sensible voice for taxpayers and fees-payers
And Finally – Expanding our Marin Public Service Activities
Continue to provide taxpayer representatives to oversight committees of several Marin districts
Host very well trafficked booth at Marin Senior Fair.
Public speaking on tax/fee payer issues – Our 2018 Marin Coalition talk was well received. We’re now reaching out to other civic groups.
Educate eligible seniors, disabled and low income taxpayers about available local tax exemptions.
Educate school children about elections. 2018 visit to Cascade Canyon elementary school was a fun, rewarding first outing.
Inform public employees about union opt-out pursuant to 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision.