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Possible parcel tax met with resistance

CARDIFF-BY-THE-SEA — School officials are considering the possibility of proposing a ballot measure that would increase property taxes as a means to offset state budget cuts in education.
The idea of raising taxes at a time when most can least afford it was the overarching theme of many of the speakers at the district’s meeting July 22. “This is just not the time to hit us with another tax,” Trisha Smith, a Cardiff-by-the-Sea resident, told the board.
Tension has mounted in the community over the issue with the Cardiff Taxpayers Association coming out squarely against any additional taxes. It has suggested trimming the “fat” in the district, including increasing class size, reducing utility expenses and cutting salaries for teachers and administrators.
The group’s president, Jerry Peters, said the majority of residents were against an increase in the so-called parcel tax. Several signs opposing “school taxes” dotting the yards of homes in the area support his contention that the concept is unpopular with some residents.
However, Superintendent Tom Pellegrino assured the small crowd at the meeting that he brought the idea of a parcel tax to the board as one of several possible ways to meet the budget shortfall.
“We’re investigating the parcel tax concept, nothing more,” he said. “There is no campaign, there is no proposition.”
In fact, only the district’s board of trustees can approve a ballot measure that must pass with two-thirds majority of the voters. Trustees did not indicate whether they supported an increased parcel tax but did agree to revisit the issue at a later date.
The school district serves approximately 750 students at two elementary school sites with expenditures of $7 million a year. Over the 2008-09 and 2009-10 fiscal years, district officials expect state budget cuts to reduce revenues by $760,000 from initial estimates.
According to Sandie Luehrs, director of fiscal services, approximately 74 percent of the budget comes from property taxes.
“With property values declining, we have less coming in,” she said. School officials are also anticipating mid-year cuts to the state’s already uncertain education budget.
Although the cost of $120 per parcel has been floated in flyers and Web sites, Luehrs said that no amount had been decided upon. Pellegrino also addressed what he termed “misinformation” from those opposed to an increase in property taxes to fund the school district.
In a public letter, he said “the district has lost over $760,000 in anticipated revenues since February 2009. The state has deeper deficits and all school districts expect more cuts, we just don’t know how much deeper they will be. More cuts will affect our students’ education levels,” he said.
At least one parent of a student at Ada Harris Elementary, who asked to remain anonymous, said she was stunned that some of her neighbors were opposed to paying additional taxes for education spending.
“It’s ironic that most of these people don’t even have children in the district but they act like they know what’s best for our kids,” she said. “Of course times are difficult for everyone right now, I don’t necessarily want to pay more taxes but if it means a better educated population then I will.”
The next board meeting is Aug. 26 at 5 p.m. in the Cardiff School auditorium.