On November 6, Albany voters will be asked to vote on a ½ cent sales tax to be in place for 8 years. You may be asking yourself why such a tax is necessary. After all, Albany isn’t one of those cities filing for bankruptcy, and things don’t seem so bad here.
It is precisely because residents want to keep what we now enjoy - health & safety, programs for youth and seniors, environmental protection, sound property values and continued city services – and because we don’t want to fall short that we need a temporary tax to help keep us afloat.
As a city of about 18,000 residents, Albany is modest in size, scope, and resources. Residents value public schools, alert and responsive public safety, engagement with one another and government, and protection of the environment. Even through the recession, property values have remained relatively steady, and few properties have changed hands.
City government is managed with fiscal conservatism. The City budgets and spends within its means, and views its reserves as available for unforeseen circumstances rather than ongoing operations. Employee compensation is middle-of-the road at best, and the choice of pension plans avoided the top tier formulas. The number of employees has remained lean, even during healthier fiscal times.
The recession hit Albany’s General Fund by way of a big decrease in property transfer tax revenue, and flat property and sales taxes. As these were projected, Albany officials, residents, and employees engaged in brainstorming, discussion, and ultimately selection of strategies to keep its budget balanced. Changes included reduction in labor costs through employee payment of the full amount of the employee portion of the pension premium; second tier pension programs; freezing, eliminating, or restructuring positions; and sharing a Fire Chief and Information Technology Manager with the cities of Piedmont and Emeryville respectively.
Keeping in mind the value that residents place on safety, engagement, the environment, and overall services, the City Council continued the budget conversation into the 2011-12 fiscal year to plan ahead for how to adequately fund these critical and desired operations and services. One strategy was to expand the city’s tax base, which the City Council recently accomplished by approving a mixed-use development on currently tax-exempt University of California property.
Another revenue strategy identified in the 2011 budget discussions was a sales tax measure. The City has the authority to ask its voters if they wish to establish up to a ½ cent sales tax. But was this a good idea? Would voters want to do this? The answer that emerged from a random sample survey by Godbe Research was “Yes.”
Over the course of meetings between April and July, 2012, the City Council reviewed updated budget projections, a report on the City’s capacity to meet its mandates, responsibilities, mission, and community desires, and the results of the survey. Please see the April 16 City Council agenda item 8-5 regarding City Capacity Limitations. http://albanyca.org/index.aspx?recordid=5077&page=640
Ultimately in July, the City Council unanimously decided to proceed with asking voters at the ballot whether to support a sales tax measure to help the City continue to maintain its operations and services.
You can find further information about Measure F including the impartial analysis by the City Attorney, the ballot arguments for (no arguments were filed against) and the full text of Measure F on the League of Women Voters Smart Voter web site. http://www.smartvoter.org/2012/11/06/ca/alm/meas/F/
The proposed tax would be in place for eight years and would go into effect on April 1, 2013. These funds cannot be taken away by the State. During this time the City anticipates development will begin to generate new taxes; other growth in the tax base with turnover in property and strength of Albany property values; and continued evolution in how services are delivered most cost effectively and efficiently.
Your friends and neighbors who have endorsed Measure F (Partial List):
Honorable Nancy Skinner
The Albany Unified School District Board of Education
Honorable Farid Javandel
Honorable Marge Atkinson
Honorable Robert Lieber
Honorable Peggy Thomsen
Honorable Joanne Wile
Honorable Kim Denton
Honorable Paul Black
Honorable Allan Maris
Jon Ely, former Mayor
Jewel Okawachi, former Mayor
Thelma Rubin, former Mayor
Karen Carlson Olson