City: Annual Report Doesn’t Promote Tax Measures

By Judith Scherr
Thursday September 11, 2008 - 09:42:00 AM

While a statement on the proposed library and fire tax in the annual city report that goes to every Berkeley citizen is phrased in such a way that some have said it could read like a promotion for the measures, Deputy City Manager Lisa Caronna told the Daily Planet it is not. 

Rather, she said, the report simply informs the citizenry of the existence of the measures and does not take a stand on them. 

The 2008 Annual Report says the two measures “give residents the option of providing funding for important community services.” 

Caronna said the operative word in the report is “option,” indicating that citizens can choose to vote for the measures or not. 

Although the council voted to put both tax measures on the ballot, it is not permitted to spend taxpayer dollars campaigning for them. 

For the library bond, the report states, “The improvements will address serious structural and infrastructure needs, alleviate overcrowded conditions and improve library operations and the ability to serve the public better.” 

“I don’t believe any city funds can be used to promote a measure,” attorney and former City Councilmember Don Jelinek told the Planet. However, he said, taking a “wild guess, I think this just barely makes it” on the side of legality. 

Caronna said much of the wording on the ballot measures in the report comes from the city attorney’s analysis of the measures, intended to explain but not promote them. 

The short article in the annual report does not give the cost of the measures: the fire protection tax will cost the homeowner about four cents per square foot. A 2,000-square-foot home would cost a homeowner about $80 per year.  

The library tax is based on the assessed value of a home: for a home whose assessed value is $350,000, the homeowner would be taxed $59 the first year after bonds are issued (since there will be several payments in that year); subsequent payments will be reduced to a maximum of $27 per year for the 30-year life of the bond, according to city spokesperson Mary Kay Clunies-Ross. 

The cost to design, print and mail the annual report to some 60,000 residents was about $24,300, Clunies-Ross said.