In addition to state propositions to legalize sports gambling or codify abortion rights, Contra Costa County voters will need to decide on a number of important local ballot measures in the Nov. 8 election.
Some of those new laws are tax measures to upgrade school facilities or help pay for basic city services. Here is a rundown of taxes that residents of the county’s central region will encounter:
Walnut Creek sales tax — Measure O
After the county went to great lengths in 2020 to get a half-cent tax — 0.5% of every sales transaction — approved by voters, regional groups have squared off at county meetings to claim a slice of the pie.
Walnut Creek could invite the same drama with its own half-cent sales tax ordinance, which if passed by simple majority would generate $11 million annually for the next 10 years, according to the ballot language.
The city promises a laundry list of benefits from the tax revenue — everything from crime prevention to homelessness solutions to facility upgrades, such as a new swimming pool at Heather Farm Park.
But since it’s a general tax, the revenue itself would go into the city’s general fund and wouldn’t need to pay for any of those services. The council, in effect, could spend the money however it wants.
Still, the city would form a citizens’ oversight committee and hire independent auditors each year to make sure the money is collected and spent responsibly.
One benefit of a general tax, said Councilman Kevin Wilk, is that the council can be flexible with where it allocates money as needs change.
“When all of a sudden there’s something like the pandemic, we can put money (for the swimming pool) toward homelessness prevention,” Wilk said.
Dan Buckshi, the city manager, said earlier this year that Walnut Creek is in “sound financial shape” but noted that a majority of residents indicated in a survey that they would support a tax increase.
The council may eventually find itself deciding whether to send tax revenue to the police department, an issue that has drawn controversy among residents for years, especially after the fatal police shooting in 2019 of Miles Hall, a 23-year-old Black man who had a mental health crisis.
Following outcry over a brazen mob theft last year at the city’s downtown Nordstrom, the council spent a quarter of its federal COVID-19 relief on hiring new officers.
The tax, if passed, would take effect Jan. 1. Residents would begin paying an overall sales tax of 9.25% on every transaction, the same rate as Pleasant Hill residents and lower than those in Concord.
Martinez school bond — Measure K
With the COVID-19 pandemic bringing more focus to public school funding, the Martinez Unified School District has promised to make “health, safety and security” improvements to its classrooms.
To do that, the district needs 55% of voters to approve a $90 million bond measure to build “modern labs, career training facilities and equipment,” as well as fix leaky roofs and replace air-conditioning systems.
The district’s adult-school facility is so out of shape that if “you lean on the wall, you push through it,” said district Superintendent Helen Rossi in an interview.
The bond would be repaid through an annual property tax lasting until around 2058. Property owners would pay up to $39 for every $100,000 of their property’s assessed value each year.
A median-value homeowner would pay $533.29 per year in property taxes, according to the district. That would include both Measure K and previous bonds approved by voters, including a $120 million bond in 2016 that went toward extensive renovation of the district’s elementary schools.
The new property tax would generate $5.6 million annually to pay back the Measure K bond, plus interest.
The district, which serves nearly 4,000 students at four elementary schools, Martinez Junior High and Alhambra High, promises to create an independent oversight committee and annual audits. By law, none of the revenue can be used for administrator salaries or benefits.
Walnut Creek school bond — Measure J
The Walnut Creek School District is asking voters to approve a $134 million bond to renovate classrooms, restrooms, labs, libraries, cafeterias, playgrounds and other facilities, the ballot language states.
The measure, which requires 55% approval to pass, would be repaid through annual property tax assessments of $22 for every $100,000 of assessed value.
In 2016, 73% of voters approved a $60 million bond to “upgrade classrooms, libraries and computer networks.”
By deadline, district officials had not provided an estimate of the average homeowner’s property tax obligation between Measure J and existing bonds.
The language of the bond measure this time around is very similar to what it was in 2016. But, in addition to yearly audits and an oversight committee, the district promises to seek matching funds from the state to defray its overall tax obligation.
“Our schools are well maintained and intermediate schools have recently been renovated,” the proponents’ ballot argument states, but “aging local elementary schools need critical repairs.”