To Mayor Bates, City Councilmembers, City Manager:
The Berkeley Alliance of Neighborhood Associations (BANA) has studied and discussed our city’s fiscal crisis and is eager to be heard in the ongoing discussion about how to restore fiscal stability and a balanced city budget.
At this time, we are opposed to the proposed property tax increase ballot measure and urge you not to place this measure on the ballot at this time. We believe that a full and fair discussion of the causes and cures for the city’s financial problems has not yet been undertaken. Having just one public hearing on the tax measure and one discussion of the city labor contracts, both on very short notice, is completely unacceptable.
Please consider the following factors:
• Berkeley homeowners are already among the most highly-taxed homeowners in a state in which there is already a very high combined tax burden. Our homeowners can no longer afford to be disproportionately responsible for balancing the city budget. It is our understanding that, even without this new tax measure, our property tax and property service bills, which have already risen significantly and rise automatically every year, will also rise to pay for already-approved but unfunded tax measures, such as the new animal shelter and BUSD funding. Many, many homeowners are having financial problems of their own and live on tight budgets.
• Several other taxes need to be considered that will more fairly spread the cost of government among the entire Berkeley community.
• We have an extraordinarily large number of educational and wealthy nonprofit organizations, including UC, that continue to expand their real estate and business operations while paying nothing for the services they use. If these organizations have the financial means to expand, then they also have the means to pay for the negative impacts they create and for all of the city services they use.
• Most cities charge substantial development impact fees, even to large nonprofits. We are not assured that Berkeley is receiving any such fees from either profit-making or nonprofit organizations, to make up for the large impacts of most new development.
• There are apparently several wealthy developers who for one reason or another have been able to avoid paying their fair share of property taxes. How can we have confidence in the financial abilities of our city government when things like this take place?
• There are several other tax measures on the horizon. Berkeley voters need to be able to weigh and balance the relative merits of all of these before voting for any one tax measure.
• We are concerned by the excessive cost of the city’s labor contracts. There appear to be either too many city employees or too high salaries and benefits or both. In good times this might be tolerable, but given the city’s shortage of funds and the diminished resources of city residents, these labor contracts should be changed. Our city workers, most of whom live elsewhere, need to make some sacrifices too.
• There are certainly additional belt-tightening measures that the city can and should undertake. It is your job to figure out which of these will cause the least damage.
In sum, the city needs to embark on a full, fair, and active discussion and pursuit of all budget-balancing alternatives and come up with a comprehensive plan that will work for our city and its residents over the next several years. We believe that such a discussion, if undertaken immediately, will take at least six months. While this discussion and planning is occurring and until the format of a comprehensive solution is in place, a freeze should be placed on all new taxes, hiring, expenditures, and city employee wage/benefit increases.
President, Berkeley Alliance of