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New taxes scheduled for ballot

By Kurtis Alexander, Daily Planet Staff
Friday June 28, 2002

Animal shelter on list of
city improvements

This week city leaders narrowed the list of new taxes they will seek from Berkeley residents to four. 

The proposed taxes will go toward a new animal shelter, pedestrian safety improvements, affordable housing and seismic retrofits at Old City Hall. They would cumulatively cost an average homeowner about $72 a year. 

Berkeley residents, like people in several Bay Area cities, have historically shown strong support for local funding initiatives, as compared to those living in other areas of California. Hence, takes are proportionately higher in the region. 

The average homeowner in Berkeley pays $1,080 in local taxes each year, not including property tax, according to a report issued earlier this month from the city manager’s office. 

Berkeley’s latest tax proposals come amid the approaching July deadline for putting measures on the November ballot. The new taxes will require a two-thirds vote to be enacted. 

“We’ve defeated most of the requested tax increases this year. We’ve had to. The economy is down, we simply can’t afford to do everything,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington.  

Proposals to finance street light repairs, retrofit the city’s Veteran’s Hall and increase stormwater drain fees have been dropped from city plans. In addition, a proposed bond to fund a therapeutic warm water pool has been withdrawn in hope of finding funding elsewhere. 

City Council approved the four tax initiatives in concept at their Tuesday night meeting, which means city staff members will begin writing the ballot measure wording, then re-submit the measures to council for final approval early next month. 

Councilmember Worthington said he will make a motion to drop the old City Hall initiative when it returns to council because four tax measures are too many right now. 

“I think in a down economy we should hold that one over,” he said. It’s also the most expensive, he added. 

The city hall measure would cost the average homeowner in Berkeley about $35 a year for 30 years, while the pedestrian safety initiative would cost $25 a year for the 30 years and the animal shelter initiative would cost $12 a year for an undetermined amount of time, according to the city manager’s office. 

The affordable housing initiative comes in the form of a transfer tax. People who sell their homes would be levied a 0.5 percent tax on the value of their homes, raised from the originally-proposed 0.25 percent. The revenue would go toward affordable housing projects in Berkeley as well as toward emergency shelters and residential seismic upgrades for people who can’t afford them. 

Homeowners whose homes are assessed a value of $350,000 or less would be exempt from the new tax. 

Already, Berkeley residents are taking positions on the proposed taxes. 

Citizens group Gray Panther wants to make sure the affordable housing tax will go to help the people who need it most. 

“If it goes for low income housing, not just affordable housing, we’ll support it,” said Gray Panther co-convener Margot Smith. 

So far the most vocal advocacy, calling themselves “Gimme Shelter,” is emerging in support of the animal shelter initiative. 

The group, which is already planning campaign posters, says the $7.2 million bond to fund a new animal shelter is long overdue. A lack of quarantine areas and overcrowding are their primary issues. 

The current shelter at 2013 Second St. was built in the 1940s, not to house animals, but to euthenize them, animal shelter officials said. 

“We’re always scrambling for kennel space,” said Marcie Burrell, an animal control officer. “We also have to lump new dogs in with the general population, and who knows what [diseases] they’re bringing in there.” 

Deputy City Manager Phil Kamlarz says that early campaigning is sure to make a difference in the November elections. 

“Anytime you have a citizen’s group behind a measure, it increases the chance of passage,” Kamlarz said.