Truckee-Tahoe taxes adding up
As local property assessments begin to pile up on homeowners’ tax bills, some are questioning how much more area residents can take.
The Truckee-Tahoe area has had a number of property assessments, bonds and taxes put to the voters recently. And more loom on the horizon.
Next up are a Tahoe Truckee Unified School District bond and a Truckee Fire Protection District assessment that would be added to property taxes. And as each measure is put forward, proponents promote the public benefits of each.
“I have supported many of the tax assessments,” said Don Casler, a Donner Lake resident and member of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. “The superintendent of schools said once that people in the Truckee and Tahoe area are very generous people, and you know that’s true, but I think the expectation of generosity can wear thin.”
Tahoe Truckee Unified School District Trustee Bill Kraus said he sympathizes with the taxpayers’ burden, but the proposed $93 million bond going to a vote June 3 is something he believes is important for ensuring school children are “adequately prepared for the 21st century.”
“Being a taxpayer myself, I certainly appreciate the general concern over assessments,” Kraus said by e-mail the morning after the board’s vote to approve the new bond. “I also believe that most people want to be assured that the revenue gained through such assessments are used efficiently and effectively, and have a significant, tangible impact on the public good.”
Sometimes going for assessments can bring in extra revenue, said school district Director of Facilities John Britto.
“It should also be mentioned that doing the projects [at the lake] generated an additional amount of funding from the state,” Britto said. “We received a total of $20.2 million from the state for ‘facility hardship’ funding, new construction funding, modernization funding and joint use funding.”
He said Measure C, used to build Alder Creek Middle School in Truckee, brought in $12.1 million in matching funds.
“If we are able to pass a bond in Truckee we would pursue all available state funding for the projects here as well,” Britto said.
Ultimately, said Chief Duane Whitelaw of the North Tahoe Fire Protection District, the issue is up to the voters.
“When the public votes they are making decisions about the level of service,” Whitelaw said. “I think that is a democratic way of doing it.”
The North Shore district recently passed a special property tax assessment vote by mail that assesses homeowners $48 a year. The money will go toward fire protection measures like fuels reduction, he said.
Recently Truckee-area property owners and other residents have been getting phone calls from the Truckee Fire Protection District for its proposed property assessment, and from the Town of Truckee on its proposed Measure A road tax extension.
For the fire protection district, the 400 phone surveys asked what people care about, said Fire Chief Bryce Keller, and how much they would be willing to pay.
In a recent interview, Truckee Fire Protection District Board President Bob Snyder said people were willing to pay around $60 annually, but the district decided on $49 a year for residential units, which is more in line with other area fire districts.
Keller said the district board members whittled their goal down from $1.7 million to $800,000 per year to bring on additional firefighters and fund better communications and defensible space.
In December the Truckee Town Council voted to approve a $50,000 contract with a company that will gauge the public’s support for continuing the half-cent Measure A sales tax used for road maintenance, which is set to expire in 2010.
“Currently the town is doing polling for Measure A,” said Richard Anderson, Truckee council member. “The polling itself will provide useful direction on support for the tax, any changes to the tax, and how the vote would be conducted.”
Originally passed in 1998, the sales tax generated about $2.2 million last fiscal year, earmarked to maintain 37 miles of Truckee’s “backbone” roads, according to town staff reports.
Anderson said part of the polling would determine interest in expanding that use to other public benefit projects, without increasing the tax.
The school district surveyed voters in North Lake Tahoe recently about projects that are under consideration, said Britto. The results gave officials an idea of what issues concerned voters the most.
District officials also met with members of the community. The feedback form the surveys and meetings went into “developing a final list of projects that will address needs identified in the master plan, but also concerns we are hearing from our constituents,” Britto said.
Many of these assessments are decided in a special election, rather than being part of a larger general election ballot. The recently passed Tahoe Forest Hospital District $98.5 million bond for hospital seismic retrofits was approved during a special mail-ballot election last year.
“Based on information from our consultant we felt if we held a special election it would be more likely something the community would look at and pay attention to,” said Bob Schapper, the hospital district’s chief executive officer. “Rather than being one in a lot of measures on a general ballot people don’t pay attention to.”
But Don Casler, the member of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, said he questions both the economics and motivation behind a special election.
“The hospital could have saved thousands and thousands of dollars by putting their measure on a general ballot,” Casler said.
He said the timing of a special election can effect who votes for it.
“The election date is very inconspicuous so only locals vote on it,” Casler said. “They time it to make sure second homeowners are not here, and I think that’s the wrong tactic.”
Truckee Fire Protection District’s assessment, which will be decided in a special election by March 18, can’t go on a general election ballot because property owners are voting on it, not necessarily registered voters, Bryce Keller said.
“No time of the year is a good time for an assessment, this is just business and we didn’t time it,” Keller said. “After making operational adjustments, we’ve gotten to the point where we needed to do this to maintain an appropriate level of service.”