Despite repeated citizen requests to focus on addressing the true causes (to the extent they actually exist) of the Town's declared fiscal emergency last summer, seemingly out of control discretionary spending that has managed to outpace revenue growth of 20% in the past five years (from $7MM to $8.5MM), and opportunities to improve organization and operational efficiency, the Town Council last night unanimously approved a storm drain tax ballot initiative that, if passed, will cost homeowners an additional $120/year on average.
The special, off-cycle ballot being deployed in the next 2-3 months will cost taxpayers between $70,000-$100,000 to conduct, according to town staff and consultants.
The unanimous support for the tax initiative was encouraged by Mayor Dave Trotter, despite his earlier public comments that he would not support a special, off-cycle ballot.
The council discussion would not be complete without some form of self-congratulatory comments, in this instance with the Mayor stating the proposed fee's consistency with prior storm drain reports and funding needs, despite the Town knowing of these needs for at least 5 years (and has had financial information for almost 3 years) but until now has done nothing to fund them from operating surpluses (as they should and could have been) or other savings or financing mechanisms. He also mentioned the relative bargain of $120 per year compared to the originally-contemplated $144/year tax.
Town Seeks Methods to Advocate for Tax Without Breaking Law on Advocating for Tax
Although the town and council are prohibited from advocating for the tax, there was evident offline councilmember discussion about an "independent committee" being formed that will include Mayor Trotter and Councilman Wykle to do exactly that, along with talking points being distributed to other councilmembers to share while they wait in line at Safeway or hang around Starbucks and SiSi's cafe (these rehearsed pitches that have been engineered to just barely not cross legal restrictions will undoubtedly be similar to "the facts" we have debunked in our Fact Check Series here.)
Moraga landowner Dave Bruzzone spoke about alternative sources of funding outside of new taxes and fees, calling attention to projections that just 70 new homes could generate the majority of what the Town seeks in storm drain fees from existing residents if the Town could manage its planning process more effectively (he cited a 70-100 home development that has been in the application process for 15 years as an example).
We'll be digging in to the ballot/tax initiative itself along with some cultural and decision-making observations in upcoming articles.
If you object to the new tax, you can use our objection letter template here.