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November ballot being prepped with city bonds

By Kurtis Alexander, Daily Planet Staff
Wednesday June 05, 2002

November elections may be months away, but Berkeley leaders are preparing to meet a June deadline for submitting a list of bond proposals for the voter ballot. Most plans involve basic repairs to municipal buildings and streets. 

Officials say the challenge will be asking voters for money during tight economic times. 

“People don’t want a lot of new taxes right now. They’re concerned about their job. They’re concerned about the economy,” said Mayor Shirley Dean. 

Subsequently, city leaders are burdened with the question of what to do about long overlooked maintenance issues such as cramped quarters at the city’s animal shelter, unfinished retrofits at old City Hall and insufficient lighting on many city streets. 

“We have to really focus on the bread and butter issues right now,” said Dean amid the millions of dollars in bonds up for consideration. 

The bond issues may not be sexy and easily sold to voters, but are desperately needed, city councilmembers have said at one time or another. 

Council has already ruled out the notion of floating a bond to fund seismic retrofits to the city’s Veterans Building; however, nearly a half dozen other projects that could benefit from a public cash influx remain on the table. 

“We can’t say yes to all of these. That would end up hurting them all,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington, noting that chances for failure increase with every additional bond that the city seeks. 

At the direction of City Council, the city manager’s office is studying possible 30-year bond financing for stormwater drains, a swimming pool for the school district, seismic retrofits for old City Hall, a new animal shelter and additional street lighting. 

The cost to a taxpayer with a home valued at Berkeley’s average assessment ranges from $12 a year for construction of a new animal shelter to $50 a year for stormwater improvements, city officials said. 

Taken together, all five capital projects under consideration would cost the average property owner up to $122 a year, adding to the $3100 that the average property owner now pays in property taxes. 

City hall retrofits would account for $35 a year, additional street lighting would account for $23 a year and a new school pool – which is already mostly funded – could cost $2 a year, according to city officials.  

City leaders are also considering a ballot measure that would make people who sell their property pay an additional 25 percent transfer tax. The tax would fund incentives for seismic improvements to private residential complexes and is being touted as a wide-reaching safety measure. 

Dean called the initiative, which she expects to bring $1 million annually to city coffers, part of a plan to prevent “the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives in a major earthquake which we know is going to happen.” 

The decision about which city bonds will ultimately end up on the November ballot will be influenced by any additional bonds submitted from other tax-levying authorities, councilmembers have said.  

“The voters are not ATM machines,” noted Worthington. 

The council is expected to determine the ballot’s contents June 25. 

The school district and college districts are not seeking bond measures, and the park district, BART, and county government have not announced a definite decision, according to Deputy City Manager Phil Kamlarz. 

City Council is scheduled to continue discussing potential bonds at its meetings this month.