Property owners will decide new parks tax

By KIMBERLY WHITE

Published: May 21, 2004

BALLOTS MAILED out Friday will ask property owners in the Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District to tax themselves to pay for maintenance and preservation of Palo Corona Ranch, the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail and other regional and neighborhood parks.

A tardy public hearing will be held at 7 p.m. on July 12 — the last day ballots can be turned in by voters. Property owners who are unsure how to vote are encouraged to attend the hearing to help make up their minds, park district officials said.

The ballot measure was authored by the MPRPD, which will pay a private accounting firm to tabulate the votes, according to MPRPD General Manager Joe Donofrio.

Results will be announced at a board meeting at 7 p.m. Aug. 2 at Seaside City Hall. If approved, the measure would be retroactive to July 1, the beginning of the district’s fiscal year. A simple majority is required for passage.

Monterey County registrar Tony Anchundo confirmed that, under state law, his office will not be involved in tabulating the votes.

The measure “is between the property owners and the park district,” he said.

Lawrence Samuels, vice chair of the Libertarian Party of Monterey County, said the organization may file a lawsuit over the possible conflict of interest created by the park district paying a private company to count votes for a measure the district itself drafted.

However, Donofrio said that although the law allows for someone on the MPRPD’s board of directors to tally the votes directly, members instead decided to hire the accounting firm. Additionally, the voting may be monitored by the local League of Women voters, and the public will have the opportunity to review the ballots once the count has been completed, Donofrio said.

“This is not a typical kind of election process, and the consulting firm indicated that county elections departments are really not geared up to handle a weighted property-owner ballot” in which bigger landowners have more votes, Donofrio said. Accountants with the Redwood City firm, C.G. Uhlenberg, “have already done this kind of tabulation.”

On Tuesday, the board was told the district would lose 25 percent of its revenues from property taxes over the next two years — or a total of $930,000. Instead, the state is taking the money to alleviate its financial crisis.

“The cuts would eliminate or significantly reduce our opportunities for land acquisitions in the next couple of years,” Donofrio said.

The MPRPD, which was created by voters in 1972 to preserve open space and operate parks, earlier this month acquired 680 acres of Palo Corona Ranch.

If approved, the property-assessment measure would raise approximately $830,000 for fiscal year 2004-05, and the MPRPD would be eligible for matching grants from federal, state and local sources, according to the ballot. The assessments would be continued for up to 15 years and could increase by as much as 3 percent per year during that time.

The funds would be used mainly to maintain and improve existing trails and more than 150,000 acres of existing parks and recreation areas, preserve natural open space and wildlife corridors, increase park safety and security patrols and protect lands near rivers, streams, lakes and the ocean.


Big landowners have clout

The proposed property assessments vary depending on are used, the ballot explains. For example, the assessment on most single-family homes is $19 per year, $9.50 per quarter-acre for most businesses and industrial properties and $26.98 per quarter acre for most office buildings. More weight would be given to owners of larger plots of land, because they also pay more in taxes. The vote of the largest landowner in the district, the Pebble Beach Co., would count 200 times more than the average homeowner’s vote, and the company would pay about $4,000 per year if the assessment passes, according to Gerard Van Steyn, president of S.C.I., the company hired to research and run the ballot measure at a cost of $78,000, $50,000 of which was given by the Packard Foundation.

Big landowners like PG&E and Cal-Am would be exempt from the fee for their properties which are essentially open space, according to Van Steyn, and be assessed only for property improved with buildings.

S.C.I. has run 30 of these assessment elections and 28 of them have won at the polls, according to Van Steyn. “We roughly calculated 80 percent of the weighted vote is held by single-family homeowners, so they will be the ones to decide this measure,” he said.

The July 12 public hearing will be held in Seaside City Council chambers at 7 p.m. Ballots can be turned in at the end of the meeting, or they can be returned by mail.

 

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