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August 13, 2008 > Union City Council Debates Public-Safety Funding for November 2008 Ballot

Union City Council Debates Public-Safety Funding for November 2008 Ballot

By Simon Wong

Union City Council Members gathered at a Special Meeting on Wednesday, July 30 to discuss what to put on the November 4, 2008 ballot to ensure continued funding for police and fire services within the City. The 2004 Measure K Public Safety Parcel Tax, which currently funds these services, will expire automatically in March 2009.

Before any decision was made, community members urged the Council to adopt the findings of a recent public opinion survey commissioned by the City.

SA Opinion Research interviewed four hundred randomly-selected Union City voters between June 28 and July 3, 2008. They were asked if they would vote for a renewal of the present tax, an enhancement of the present tax to pay for additional services or to replace the parcel tax with a Utility User Tax (UUT), akin to those in Alameda, Oakland and San Leandro.

The results showed support for the current parcel tax by a margin of 64% to 30% with 6% undecided. Adjusting for the undecided, there would be 68% support in a real election. Approval from two-thirds of the voters is required to pass. Only 57% of interviewees favored the enhancement of Measure K to expand the police, fire, emergency preparedness and to fund youth violence prevention and intervention. The majority disliked the idea of a tax on their utility bills as a substitute for the parcel tax.

The cost of public-safety services has increased since the parcel tax was first introduced in 2004. Moreover, the public wishes to see current levels of public safety maintained and an expansion of the City's emergency preparedness and youth services. If the 2004 Measure K is allowed to expire, the loss of revenue will significantly reduce the City's ability to fulfil either wish without substantial cuts to other essential public services.

Karen Yifru, Youth Violence Prevention Coalition, informed the Council of the Coalition's support for an enhanced parcel tax with a shorter term than the twenty-year duration of the failed June 2008 Measure K. The Coalition looks forward to working with the Council to pass a 2009 Measure K.

Resolution No. 3625-08 was adopted at the Council Meeting, held on April 22, 2008, to provide $500,000 of future funding for programs to combat youth violence.

Jerico Abanico, Filipinos for Affirmative Action (FAA), explained, "We've been getting community input and conducted research for the past year. We've pushed for funding. We want the City to work with us and to invest in our youth. One of our biggest phrases is 'Invest on Our Youth'.

"With Measure K, we thought the City would provide $500,000 for these different programs and wanted to see Measure K pass so that our efforts were not in vain and to secure annual funding. As yet, we have not received any Measure K funding. As far as I know, the successor June 2008 Measure K provided for some funding for youth programs but the Measure didn't pass.

"We would like to see the 2009 Measure K include specific language stating that there will be investment in youth, that some of it will go to youth. We know that this Measure K is likely to provide an increase to police, fire and emergency preparedness but we need a balance. Funding would facilitate our outreach to community members, keep them informed and empower us to increase the prevention of violence from within the community.

"Right now, the City must consider many competing demands in the current economic climate but shouldn't put a price on the lives of the City's youth and their safety. Many young people, who had bright futures, have died. I hope the City Council can agree with us and see this. We are a community and represent the people. We do know the conditions, we talk with folks and I, myself, have worked with a lot of youth in Union City and have heard their cries and pleas. We just need to do a lot better, and hope the City can agree with us, and move forward together."

The consensus on the Council was to renew Measure K rather than replace the parcel tax with a UUT. Members' support for an enhanced Measure K was mixed. It was deemed appropriate not to table a motion for what should appear on the November 2008 ballot and postpone the final decision for a week to thoroughly weigh options, reconcile different interests and continue to take soundings from the electorate. The Council has several choices - a continuation of the existing parcel tax (no increase); an enhanced successor Measure K; an annual Consumer Price Index (CPI) cap less than the 3% contained in the failed June 2008 Measure K; a reduced term of between five and ten years; reluctant introduction of a UUT. A Special Meeting, at which a decision is expected, is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Wednesday, August 6, 2008,

Should a 2009 Measure K fail in November 2008, another parcel tax cannot be proposed before June 2009; a maximum of two are permitted in a twelve-month period. The solution would be to hold a Special Election for a UUT, or another general tax, during the 2009 calendar year. It would, however, require two-thirds voter approval to pass, instead of a simple majority of 51% for a general tax, because it will not be on a ballot that includes the election of city council members.

Additionally, there is concern that the potential loss of the 911 fee, introduced in 2003 to upgrade and maintain the City's emergency response system, will impact service levels. In April 2008, The First District Court of Appeal, San Francisco, ruled that Union City's 911 fee is a special tax that was imposed unconstitutionally without the required two-thirds' voter approval. The City has petitioned the State Supreme Court to review the ruling and awaits a decision on whether or not the City's case will be heard. A decision to deny or grant the petition is unlikely before August 8, 2008. Many other cities in California also have a 911 fee and regard Union City as a test case. The outcome will have state-wide implications.

The deadline for a 2009 Measure K Public Safety Parcel Tax to appear on the November 4, 2008, ballot is 5 p.m. at the Alameda County Registrar of Voters (ROV) office in Oakland on August 8, 2008.

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