Commentary: Parks Tax and the Budget Picture

parks-tax

One of my hobbies during election time is to find some of the more ludicrous arguments in letters to the editor and write about them.  Now some people believe that mentioning these validates them.

I am about open government and transparency and I think the best way to deal with these is to address them.  After all, one of my political mentors told me that the way you treat communications is to understand that for every person who speaks out, there are at least 100 people who feel the same way but are not speaking.

So, we get to this letter to the editor from the other day on the parks tax.  We have not written a ton about this because we do not see it as a matter of much controversy and believe it will pass fairly easily.

But this person is voting no: “I’m voting no on Measure D (aka lighting and landscaping tax aka parks tax).”

They add, “This tax was instituted a couple of decades ago to make up for city revenue lost to the new Redevelopment Agency. With the Redevelopemt (sic) Agency winding up, there can be no reason to continue with this unnecessary tax.”

That’s a strange argument.  People can vote however they want on the parks tax, but they should at least have the facts.

The current budget picture is as follows.  Right now, the parks tax, at $49 per parcel, funds $1.35 million in the general fund budget.  Now, that money funds about one-quarter of our current parks expenditures.

What does that mean?  It means that if the parks tax loses next week, the city is going to have to find $1.35 million somewhere to pay for some of these costs – much of which are fixed costs.

If you don’t want to pay $49, or you wish to send a message about the misuse of money, that is fine.  Personally, I don’t think it will help the city to have to find another $1.35 million to cut.

As City Manager Steve Pinkerton put it, “It would mean a permanent reduction in the quality of the parks that we have in the community.”

He added, “You won’t have parks mowed every week … you’re not going to see any more edging along the sidewalks in any of our parks or around the play areas, you won’t have the dollars for fertilizer, you won’t have the dollars to check our shrubs every year to see if we need to prune those, you’re going to see less water on our grass, it’s not going to be the Davis green that you’re used to. It’s going to be somewhere south of green in the future.”

The premise of the writer is wrong – the city is not going to suddenly see an influx of tax money because of the end of redevelopment.  The whole purpose of ending redevelopment was for the state to get their hands on that local money.

To characterize the tax as useless depends on what you consider useful.

I agree that that the parks tax is not the highest of all priorities.  But if you look at general fund spending, you can look at it several different ways.  Most of our general fund (about 80%) goes to employee compensation.  So if we have to cut $1.35 million, that means people are likely going to lose their jobs.

If you look at it by area you are looking at fire, police and parks, with much of the public works money coming from non-general fund sources like the enterprise fund.

Since some of the costs of parks are fixed – i.e. we have to pay for them, and that means that some of the difference will have to come from public safety.  Why do you think the firefighters pumped out $3000 in support of this tax extension?  Don’t say good will in the community.

Now, some will point to the firefighters’ largesse and while I agree on that, you forget that we still have to find $7.5 million in savings over the next two to three budgets, and so if you use fire money to offset for the loss of the parks tax, then you have to find a different pot to rob for the overall structural deficit of the city.

As I said the other day, if you want to understand where this is going, I think we may have to eventually close down parks, brown greenbelts, close pools – someone derisively called this the David Greenwald vision for Davis.

The reality is this is what I have been working for four years to avoid.  The fact that the majority on council now sees this danger is progress, but even they were not able to act even after passing what should have been an historic budget last year.

Things remain bad – $150 million unfunded liability in terms of pensions and retiree medical benefits.  We also have about $20 million in deferred maintenance on roadways.  And we have a still undefined amount in deferred maintenance in other infrastructure needs – some of which is non-general fund, but all of which will eventually come from taxpayer pockets.

There are some that believe that $1.35 million will just be another deficit that we have, while others want to send a message for the bad behavior of past councils by further hamstringing the other council.  The voters can decide how they want to approach this, but again, we all need to be working off the same playbook.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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11 Comments

  1. Mr.Toad

    Since you are on the topic of whoppers. How about this whopper from Sue in yesterday’s Enterprise on housing.

    “I would like to see significant townhouse and condominium development on underused parcels within walking distance of downtown, such as the 27-acre PG&E site at L Street between Second and Fifth and the 40-acre Nishi site that lies west of Café Italia and north of I-80, along with some apartments and student housing on the Nishi and housing on a portion of the Hunt-Wesson.”

    Sue has been touting PG&E for at least three elections. Nishi is a terrible place for housing wedged between a railroad and a freeway it will have too much noise and air pollution and limited access. Yes more student housing with limited access in isolated ghettos. Hunt-Wesson, Sue wants to wait out Conagra as long as it takes. So she is for projects that are ill suited or have been demonstrated to have no chance of happening as she describes them. A more honest answer would have been that she doesn’t want any housing.

  2. Mr.Toad

    Then she adds this fabrication as if repeating the big lie will make it true.

    “That said, I don’t think that building more for-sale houses will create affordability because the price of Davis homes is ultimately determined by our high quality of life; demand for our housing is regional and even national.”

    I like to see substantiation for this one.

  3. E Roberts Musser

    [quote] The whole purpose of ending redevelopment was for the state to get their hands on that local money.[/quote]

    I’m glad the Vanguard has finally conceded that ending redevelopment meant the state was going to suck up local monies…

  4. hpierce

    The letter to the editor writer either lacks facts, or lies. The LLAD’s were conceived of & formed ~ the time of Prop 13, which far preceded the Redevelopment Agency. The Redevelopment Agency was funded by tax increment levies due to increase of value of properties within the RDA, due to development/redevelopment. Those increased revenues had to be shared with the County via a “pass-through” agreement, to keep the county from approving development in the County, next to Davis, without the City’s approval (or the city would have the opportunity to annex the land (e.g., Mace Ranch).
    The original LLAD’s were ‘dormant’ (nearly no assessment for a long period of time. In the 80’s, a project known as Senda Nueva was built with a large greenbelt/drainage facility, which was to be built by the developers, and maintained via an HOA, without City funds, because the city did not want/need that particular amenity and was already experiencing financial issues for park maintenance due to Prop 13. The various developers, messed up with the design of the improvements, and the many residents in the area woke up and realized that they would be paying a lot to get it right, and maintain it. They pressure the city to take it over. The City eventually agreed to do so, once the developers brought the facility up to City standard, and if the homeowners would pay for a substantial portion of the maintenance by participating in a LLAD. Each year, assessments were adjusted (usually, but not always, upward) to cover landscape, irrigation, and a portion of the bikepath and lighting maintenance costs. Then came prop 218, requiring a vote to increase assessments. The City decided to abandon the LLAD concept, and backfill the various LLAD costs, and other parks maintenence costs with the Parks tax.
    This is the “readers’ digest version. The letter to the editor author either did not know/understand the history, or decided to attempt to re-write history, for whatever purpose they chose. The writer has been around long enough, and “active” enough, for me to seriously doubt the former.

  5. hpierce

    The letter to the editor writer either lacks facts, or lies. The LLAD’s were conceived of & formed ~ the time of Prop 13, which far preceded the Redevelopment Agency. The Redevelopment Agency was funded by tax increment levies due to increase of value of properties within the RDA, due to development/redevelopment. Those increased revenues had to be shared with the County via a “pass-through” agreement, to keep the county from approving development in the County, next to Davis, without the City’s approval (or the city would have the opportunity to annex the land (e.g., Mace Ranch).
    The original LLAD’s were ‘dormant’ (nearly no assessment for a long period of time. In the 80’s, a project known as Senda Nueva was built with a large greenbelt/drainage facility, which was to be built by the developers, and maintained via an HOA, without City funds, because the city did not want/need that particular amenity and was already experiencing financial issues for park maintenance due to Prop 13. The various developers, messed up with the design of the improvements, and the many residents in the area woke up and realized that they would be paying a lot to get it right, and maintain it. They pressure the city to take it over. The City eventually agreed to do so, once the developers brought the facility up to City standard, and if the homeowners would pay for a substantial portion of the maintenance by participating in a LLAD. Each year, assessments were adjusted (usually, but not always, upward) to cover landscape, irrigation, and a portion of the bikepath and lighting maintenance costs. Then came prop 218, requiring a vote to increase assessments. The City decided to abandon the LLAD concept, and backfill the various LLAD costs, and other parks maintenence costs with the Parks tax.
    This is the “readers’ digest version. The letter to the editor author either did not know/understand the history, or decided to attempt to re-write history, for whatever purpose they chose. The writer has been around long enough, and “active” enough, for me to seriously doubt the former.

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