Acknowledging court decisions earlier this year striking down portions of a school parcel tax in Alameda County, the Davis Board of Education voted Thursday to take out portions of the district’s recently approved parcel tax, Measure E, that would have charged local single-family homes and multi-unit dwellings at different tax rates.
The board’s decision means that Measure E will now charge local property owners at a uniform rate of $204 per parcel per year.
The tax was approved by Davis voters — by a 69-31 percent majority — on Nov. 6, 2012. Measure E will be in effect for four years (July 2013-June 2017).
Designed to partially offset repeated reductions in state funding for education over the past five years, Measure E went before local voters as dual-rate measure, charging $204 annually for single-family homes, and $20 per unit annually for multi-unit dwellings. The rationale was that people living in apartments, duplexes and condominiums should bear a lighter tax burden.
But Measure E also included a severability clause stating, “should any part of the measure be found by a court of competent jurisdiction to be invalid for any reason, all remaining parts of the measure or taxing formula hereof shall remain in full force and effect to the fullest extent allowed by law.”
A lawsuit challenging a dual-rate parcel tax already was underway in Alameda County. In March, in a case known as Borikas v. Alameda Unified School District, the California Court of Appeals invalidated a portion of a dual-rate school parcel tax there, ruling that California law requires that parcel taxes charge a uniform rate for all types of parcels.
The Alameda district appealed the Borikas decision to the California Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case in June, thereby making the Court of Appeals ruling final.
Earlier this year, local anti-parcel tax activist Jose Granda and other tax opponents filed a lawsuit in Yolo County Superior Court, challenging Davis’ Measure E on much the same grounds cited in the Borikas lawsuit. The attorney representing Granda and other plaintiffs — David Brillant, of Walnut Creek — handled the Alameda case. The Davis lawsuit has not gone to trial.
In recognition of the fact that the Measure E suit has not been withdrawn, Davis school board trustees and senior district administrators spoke only briefly, from prepared statements, during Thursday’s meeting. In a news release, the district framed the board’s decision to sever the dual-rate aspects of Measure E and adopt a uniform $204 per parcel tax rate as an effort “to implement Measure E in accordance with the intent of the voters and consistent with current legal requirements.”
“As a result, the district has decided to implement Measure E in a way that is consistent with Borikas by levying one uniform rate for all parcels of taxable real property. … Exemptions for seniors and the disabled remain unaffected,” the news release said.
School board president Sheila Allen told The Enterprise, “The district is being proactive in implementing Measure E in accordance with the intent of the Davis school district voters and the recent legal requirements imposed by the Borikas decision.”
Added Associate Superintendent Bruce Colby, “The large majority of (local) parcels will not be impacted. … Some (multi-dwelling-unit parcels) will see an elimination of the tax. Others will see a varying degree of increase or decrease. In no cases will parcels incur more than $204 per parcel.”
Speaking at Thursday’s school board meeting, Granda had a different interpretation: “The fact that you are holding this (public) hearing is recognition that you have lost this case.” He suggested that instead of severing portions of Measure E, the school board should allow the lawsuit to go to trial, and let the legal process “take its course.”
Granda also asserted that the decision to exercise the severability clause might not pass legal muster.
“(This) is not what voters voted on,” Granda said. “You cannot change ballot language and you cannot change results. You should refrain from doing this. You invite (further) litigation.”
Local property owners will not see the first charge under Measure E until this fall, when the Yolo County treasurer-tax collector sends out the 2013-14 property tax bills.
— Reach Jeff Hudson at [email protected] or 530-747-8055.