There are two ways to balance a budget, earn more or spend less. Berkeley’s mayor and city Council have decided to “earn more.” For you or I, “earn more” means work more; for city government it means charge higher fees and create new taxes.
Recently the Council conducted a symbolic public hearing regarding its proposed parcel tax. Several issues and questions were brought to the Council’s attention. None were addressed. After listening to citizen objections the mayor proceeded to discount the public comment asserting that raising property taxes is the only way for the city to function.
I would like the mayor and Council to respond to the following concerns:
1.) Berkeley property owners pay more fees and taxes than any other bay area city. Do we receive better services?
2.) Why is the ratio of public employees to citizens in Berkeley higher than in any other bay area city?
3.) Why are city employees paid more and receive greater benefits than their counter parts in cities of similar size?
4.) What about all the public money given to or lent (at low or no interest) to fund large “non-profit” housing projects in the city? How carefully is this money followed and monitored? Does the community receive a fair ”return” for it’s profound contribution?
5.) Is the $3,000,000 per year spent to sustain the rent board worth it? Why does its budget keep going up when the number of units it administers goes down?
6.) Did the city just buy a new recycling truck? How much did it cost? Is the curbside recycling program self-sustaining? In my neighborhood recycling bins are emptied the night before the truck arrives by a grocery cart recycling brigade. Why doesn’t the city stop this or simply turn the program over to this industrious group?!
7.) How much did those yellow pedestrian flags cost? How many lives did they save? How many times have they been replaced? Why are they displayed on a frat house on Dwight Way? Was this a wise use of public money? How many other equally effective “solutions” does the city fund?
8.) As a highly taxed, self-employed homeowner without retirement, pension, or medical benefits, I pay for my own use of the YMCA. Why do you think it is my responsibility to pay for city employee to use the YMCA?
Even though the city has recently increased fees and fines across the board (including garbage collection, building permits, parking permits and parking tickets), the mayor thinks homeowners should cough up an additional $250.00 a year simply on the faith that our government is without waste or excess. Experience tells us that waste is eliminated only when increased revenue is denied.
There are simply too many unanswered questions and questionable city expenditures to allow for further property tax increases. Besides, it is the most unfair tax in Berkeley. Why should homeowners flip the bill for the tens of thousands of untaxed tenants in the city? Don’t tenants drive on our streets, use the sewers, call the police when they are mugged?
The problem is not “taxation without representation” but rather “representation without taxation.” The tenant population can vote for every property tax increase, enjoy the ensuing services but never bear the burden of the additional cost.
The mayor asserts that property tax is the only source of new revenue. This is not true. Considering the unfairness of placing the entire burden on property owners why not institute one of the following:
1.) Annual Tenant Use Fee?
2.) Citywide “sin” tax (city tax on alcohol & cigarettes)?
3.) A general sales tax?
But before raising any additional revenues the public must demand absolute accountability from our government. The mayor and City Council must understand that there is a limit to what we can or will pay for. We are near that limit now!
John Koenigshofer is a poet, a painter and builder of small condominium projects in Berkeley.