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Contra Costa County Voters Casting Ballots on School District Measures, Hospital

Voters in different parts of Contra Costa County still have a chance to cast their ballots today on two school district parcel tax extensions and a parcel tax meant to prevent a public hospital from closing.

In the West Contra Costa County Healthcare District, which stretches from Crockett to Kensington, residents are voting on Measure C, a 14-cent tax on each square foot of developed property, or about $210 for a 1,500-square-foot home.

The measure is designed to keep Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo open and needs two-thirds voter approval to pass. Measure C proponents say the parcel tax is a last-ditch effort to keep the financially struggling hospital open and that if it fails, the hospital could close as soon as July.

County Supervisor John Gioia, a member of the hospital's governing board, said Doctors Medical Center is losing about $17 million annually, largely because the majority of the 40,000 patients it serves are either uninsured or Medi-Cal beneficiaries.

Cuts to administrative positions and overhead and funding from the state and neighboring hospitals have allowed Doctors Medical Center to keep its doors open, but with funding dried up and nowhere else to cut, the hospital is again looking to the voters, according to Gioia.

Unlike parcel tax measures passed by voters in the healthcare district in 2004 and 2011, Measure C would be enough to close the hospital's budget gap, the supervisor said.

Gioia and other Measure C supporters have pointed out that the San Pablo hospital's closure would eliminate West Contra Costa County's only certified stroke and heart attack center and increase wait times at neighboring Kaiser Permanente Richmond Medical Center by up to 10 hours, according to a county study.

However, opponents to the tax say the hospital's revenue stream has long been unsustainable and that the measure wouldn't fix the hospital's underlying financial issues.

Opponents, including a number of homeowners and the Contra Costa Taxpayers Association, say burdening already heavily taxed residents with another parcel tax is unfair.

Ballot arguments against the measure included speculation that the hospital wouldn't close due to Measure C's failure.

"It can go into bankruptcy as it did in 2006 in spite of getting the 2004 parcel tax revenue and stay open," one argument reads.

Voters in the Acalanes Union High School District -- which includes parts of Moraga, Orinda, Lafayette and Walnut Creek -- are considering Measure A, the extension of a $112 parcel tax passed in 2010 meant to continue funding advanced academic courses and up-to-date classroom technology and materials.

The measure requires two-thirds voter approval to pass and would mean taxpayers would continue to pay the yearly tax, which is set to expire on June 30, 2015. Measure A does not include an expiration date.

Property owners aged 65 or older may apply to the district to be exempt from the tax.

Supporters say Measure A funding would preserve funding of advanced math, science, technology, English, foreign language and arts classes and prepare more than 5,000 local students for college.

The funding will also allow the district to attract and retain highly qualified teachers. Opponents, including the Contra Costa Taxpayers Association, say the district's deficit has grown by more than $2 million over the past two years and that incoming revenue based on future enrollment and growth is uncertain.

The taxpayers association has recommended a "no" vote on the measure "because the tax is permanent (no sunset review) and because the increase in deficits may become the norm requiring future additional property tax increases," a statement from the association reads.

The Lafayette School District has proposed Measure B, a $539 parcel tax approved by voters in 2007 and again in 2011 to fund core academic programs and the arts for the district's four elementary schools and one middle school.

The tax requires two-thirds voter approval to pass and would rise annually based on inflation, though not by more than 3 percent per year.

An expiration date is not included in the measure. Seniors 65 and over are eligible for an exemption. Supporters say the tax revenue would provide continued funding of math, science, technology, English and arts programs and up-to-date materials and technology and would promote manageable class sizes.

But Measure B opponents say they plan to vote "no" because of the permanence of the tax, which has no expiration date, and the fact that it will increase yearly.

Voters who have not yet mailed in their ballots may turn them in to a ballot return center until 8 p.m. today.

Ballot return center locations and other election information can be found at www.cocovote.us.

--Bay City News
c5 May 07, 2014 at 11:47 AM
This may unfortunately be the first time I vote against school parcel tax measures. In this case it is not because I am against the schools, or even parcel tax extensions, but because of the structure of these measures. Making the taxes permanent takes away any and all real oversight by taxpayers. The taxes go on forever regardless of need. In additioin, measure B adds an additional bad policy element--the cost of living adjustment. So in spite of all the signs around Lafayette which are not telling the truth, in point of fact measure B will raise property taxes each and every year in perpetuity, again regardless of need. The Contra Costa Times has come out against these measures as well, FWIW. I would have gladly supported 'clean' measures with no cola and the normal sunset date. They will probably pass anyway, but this time unfortunately without my vote.
mlm2013 May 08, 2014 at 10:29 PM
And not to mention that there is a primary election June 3 that the prop could have been on. But noooo, they had to have a special mail in ballot to get this passed. I'm not against these parcels, but they need to be up for review every few years - it's just not right that future homeowners will be paying this tax without being able to vote it in or out - taxation without representation. It kind of almost sounds like a Mello-Roos. I'll bet at some point, there will be a lawsuit to challenge the perpetuity aspect of these taxes. Thank goodness my husband is turning 65 this year - we get to opt out in 2015. Acalanes UHSD's tin cup will not be filled at our home any longer -

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