Belvedere tax Measure D a fair proposition to stabilize roads – Marin Independent Journal
The proposed Measure D levy to raise money for disaster preparedness in Belvedere is either a fair way to pay for needed repairs – or it’s a slush fund mess pushed by a city council trying to bend the rules and deceive community owners.
It depends who you ask.
Accountable Belvedere, a group of concerned residents, wants to derail the proposed 0.8% property transfer tax that will force Belvedere to become Marin County’s second charter city (after San Rafael). The group says the tax “will lessen City Hall’s liability while unnecessarily and unfairly raising taxes and giving City Hall a blank check.”
City officials say about $20 million is needed to finally address a long-running report questioning the soundness of San Rafael Avenue and Beach Road, the main roads into and out of the Belvedere. Studies show that roads, built on fill, are prone to liquefaction in the event of a major earthquake.
City plans will reinforce these roads. Plans include other projects to improve public safety. The tax is expected to provide $1.6 million annually to the city’s general fund and be levied for 30 years or less with audits and civilian oversight. It is a general tax and requires a simple majority to pass. Officials say the city’s track record of prudent spending and its fiscal position should allay fears.
“This is a city with minimal debt and a healthy reserve,” said Mayor Sally Wilkinson, who worked with a finance committee of volunteer experts to put Measure D on the ballot. “The city will be very transparent with the oversight and finance committees.”
The state-subsidized inspection that led to the troubling diagnosis of the roads took place more than 10 years ago. City council members say they’re just trying to fix them and pay them in the best way possible.
The tax proposal divided the community. Measure D is endorsed by a group of 18 former mayors of Belvedere. In a letter to the community, the former mayors highlighted the benefits, including the ability to fully deduct the cost for capital gains purposes.
City leaders cited research showing property transfer taxes are fairer to a larger group of community residents. The studies are compelling. Unlike a parcel tax or sales tax, it does not immediately increase the cost of living at Belvedere.
But the Marin Coalition of Sensible Taxpayers and the Marin Association of Realtors suggest voting no. COST believes the levy’s long 30-year duration, along with the potential for it to be used for other projects, makes it a non-starter.
“The city has no desire to go into debt,” Wilkinson retorts. “But if we collect enough in the first few years, we can ask for the tax to be removed sooner.”
The Accountable Belvedere group points to elderly homeowners who could move from a Belvedere home on the hilly island to one in the flat areas of the Lagoon District. This resident could be forced to pay the tax twice (sale and purchase).
In addition, there are concerns about the unrealized repercussions of moving to a charter city. According to the League of California Cities, “Becoming a charter city allows voters to determine how their municipal government is organized and, with respect to municipal affairs, to enact legislation different from that passed by the state.”
In an effort to stay as close to other communities as possible, the measure would only allow rewriting to deal specifically with transfer tax. The limited charter is a sign to the community that the tax is a prudent and transparent initiative.
The council has done its job of working on behalf of as many residents as possible to offer voters its best funding measure. Accountable Belvedere has also done its job. This created a thorough review of this proposal.
After thoroughly reading the evidence on both sides of the property transfer tax, voters must decide who they trust. The IJ editorial board trusts the research and the plan. He approves a yes vote on measure D.
See all IJ endorsements at marinij.com/opinion/endorsements.
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