District eyes another parcel tax

Two years into a five-year parcel tax, the La Cañada School Board Tuesday set the stage for an encore, approving a $6,500-a-month contract with a consulting firm that will assess the feasibility of a similar measure in the future.

Board member Cindy Wilcox was the lone dissenter in the 3-1 vote, with board member Joel Peterson absent. Wilcox declined to support entering into a contract with San Francisco-based TBWB Strategies, saying that a draft of a survey that will go out to community members to gauge their receptiveness to a new parcel tax did not sufficiently address board goals.

“What I would like to board to do is set three priorities for either increasing revenue or reducing cost so that we can offer the program we want to offer for some projected time frame, and really address that in the survey,” Wilcox said. “I feel this survey doesn’t — it kind of dances all over in a way that isn’t going to give us good actionable data on high priorities for the district.”

Extending the existing parcel tax, or introducing a new one, is one of several budget-righting options currently under the microscope of district officials. Others include increasing the number of out-of-district students, and reducing staffing and programming.

“We would need cumulatively probably about $6 million; because we have a deficit next year of $1 million, the following year is $1.82 million and the following year is $3.2 million,” said Stephen Hodgson, a financial consultant with the district, about the revenue needed to stem deficit spending.

The existing parcel tax passed in June 2009 with nearly 75% of the vote following a months-long campaign. It was the first in five attempts in which district officials successfully pushed through a parcel tax. Similar special elections held in 1985, twice in 1999, and in 2004 all failed to garner voter approval.

The $150-per-parcel tax generates about $890,550 annually. District officials are already looking ahead to its 2014 expiration date with the hope of possibly plugging the funding gap with something similar.

Several board members said they were confident in the expertise of the consulting firm to create an effective survey. They further pointed out that the survey before them was only a draft, and could potentially be edited before being released to the public.

“What we want them to survey is the comfort in the parcel tax,” said board member Jeanne Broberg. “I feel we are hiring them to decide what kinds of things to ask to accomplish that.”

But Wilcox said that the survey did not sufficiently spell out the trade off between the cost of a potential parcel tax and reductions in programming.

“A parcel tax at $150 might be easy to pass, but you are giving something up,” Wilcox said. “A parcel tax at $400 might be a little harder to pass, [but] you get to keep more. I feel like the survey just doesn’t adequately address that.”

Wilcox’s motion to table the contract failed, with her colleagues voting to push forward with the agreement.

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