PG’s Ps And Qs
Anti-tax attorney vows to fight Pacific Grove tax package.
Thursday, November 1, 2007
For nearly a year, Pacific Grove leaders have been scrambling to patch up a budget that leaves the city $2 million short of funds for basic municipal services. In recent months they’ve cut 24 staff jobs, replacing them with 20 lower-paid positions, and consolidated services in an effort to reduce spending. Now they’re asking residents to pass a tax package that would raise another $1.6 million per year.
Measure P imposes a flat annual parcel tax of $120, Measure O removes the $3,000 annual business license tax cap, and Measure Q raises the sales tax by one-half percent to 7.75 percent. All three measures sunset in six years.
If voters don’t approve the tax package, city officials will have to make some uncomfortable choices—possibly to close facilities, cut back on services, and shut down or reduce hours at the library and museum.
One PG resident doesn’t seem to care.
In late August, PG homeowner and Monterey attorney Carl Mounteer filed a complaint against the City, arguing that Measure P violates the state Constitution. Three weeks later Monterey County Superior Court Judge Robert O’Farrell dismissed the case because election materials were already being printed. The complaint raises “significant Constitutional challenges to Measure P” that are best addressed after the election, the judge ruled.
Mounteer, a registered Independent who tends to vote Republican, has a Libertarian beef with taxes in general. As far as he’s concerned, citizens shouldn’t have to pay for public services other than police, fire and emergency response. “Government never has enough money. They always want more money, and they mis-spend the money they get,” he says, seated at his office desk. “It just keeps feeding the beast.”
Mounteer claims that Measure P violates Proposition 13, passed in 1978, which limits property taxes to 1 percent of market value.
City attorney David Laredo counters that Measure P wouldn’t tax properties based on their values. Rather, it would impose a flat parcel tax of $120 per year, with opportunities for owners to apply for exemptions if their parcels don’t benefit from city services—making it an excise rather than a property tax. Low-income household are also eligible for exemptions.
Even if the court agrees that Measure P is an excise tax, Mounteer is ready with a counter-attack: Another state law, Proposition 218, prohibits the assessment of fees for general government services such as police, fire and emergency response.
Laredo says Prop 218, which defines property-related fees, doesn’t apply to tax measures. “It’s kinda like saying, ‘What kinds of oranges does apple juice come from?’ ” he says. “The three-letter word is fee. This is a tax. So [Prop 218] is not an issue.”
On Aug. 1 the City Council determined that the PG is facing a financial emergency, legally enabling a vote on the tax package. “Without these taxes, there’s no way to avoid significant cuts in services that could likely affect the health and safety of the residents,” City Manager Jim Colangelo says. “The question to the voters is, do you want to give us more revenue to maintain and enhance the services you have, or are you willing to live with reductions in services?”
Measure P is bound on the ballot with Measures O and Q: The package goes into effect only if all three receive majority votes. The taxes would generate about $1.6 million per year—enough for the city to maintain current service levels, patch under-funded services and pad municipal reserves.
The tax package stems from a City Council decision to recover one-fourth of the budget shortfall through municipal spending cuts and the rest through new revenue. After beheading six departments, eliminating 18 other positions (while creating 20 lower-paying gigs) and consolidating some city services, the city shaved roughly $500,000 from its expenses.
Last summer, the City Council proposed the all-or-nothing tax package as a way to evenly distribute the remaining burden among sectors of the public. “The council wanted to have the measures linked,” Laredo says.
Mounteer is skeptical of the city’s recent moves. “I wonder a little bit if the cuts are being staged right now,” he says, “to suggest we’re on the verge of selling pencils on the corner here.”
He says that if the package passes and his feelings don’t change, he will sue the City. If he files and wins such a lawsuit, representing himself, he may be entitled to attorney’s fees. After consulting his laptop, he says he’s spent 64 hours on the case so far.
|THE WEEKLY TALLY||30,907||
The percent increase in the number of cameras in people’s hands worldwide in the past four years. Source: Future Image, who hosts 6Sight: The Future of Imaging Nov. 8-9 in Monterey, a conference designed to share insight on state of the art technologies being developed to capture and store visual data like digital pictures and video.