If you’re a homeowner, most likely you received your property tax bill in the mail last week. I did and I owe $11,854. (If Washington Mutual does not collapse I will pay this amount from my savings). My parents, who live next door, with the same size lot, will be paying $1,696.
Why the huge difference? A little thing called Proposition 13, which protects my parents and other seniors. Both of my parents are retired teachers that own no other property and are on a fixed income. Prop. 13 lets them and seniors like them hold on to their home.
Even though our property taxes are nearly a 10 to 1 difference our “special assessments” are the same. Both houses have special assessments of $525.54 each. The bulk of this is $395.64 for the city of San Jose sewer sanitation/storm fee, which equates to $79 million to the city per year. Townhouses/condominiums pay less then single family homes at $223.68. The reasoning by city staff is that condos use the toilet less since there tend to be fewer occupants compared to houses. The money that is collected goes towards our sewers and the water pollution control plant. A portion of these funds are then bonded out to make them go further and to be used to pay back bonds that the city issued in the mid-1990s to build and expand the recycled water system. (I wrote about this plant on a prior blog on June 2nd called “Disneyland Comes to Alviso.”)
Last week on the city council, we were approving a contract for security guards at the water pollution control plant. City staff did an RFP and chose a vendor based on references and price. At the last minute it was proposed by some on the council that Living Wage should apply to this type of work and we should therefore pay the security guards more then what they are asking to be paid.
If it would apply to this contract then it would open the door to higher costs for janitorial and landscape maintenance as well at the water pollution control plant.
Living Wage would raise the cost of running the plant on a day to day basis since it would be paying contracts at above market rate. The thought by some on the council was that it was okay to spend more then we need to operate the plant since it is not general fund dollars but instead Sewer Sanitation funds paid by San Jose property owners. Some of the council felt paying people above market rate is OK and the homeowners would support this.
Well, considering the council already raised the rate this year by 15 percent, I think we should ask the homeowners directly whether or not they would like the city to pay more then it needs to for services and then in turn increase the rates? How about for those seniors on fixed incomes under Prop 13 where special assessments keep increasing and make a higher percentage of their property tax bill?
The last time we raised fees, my office received calls against the increase. My office receives calls daily about the need for street repair, better public safety, keeping fire houses open, maintaining parks. However, I have not once received a call asking me to have homeowners pay more for security guards at the plant even though they did not ask for more money.
The reality is $1 billion is needed to update and maintain the plant and the council will need to raise rates in the future to pay for these improvements. However when we have discretion we should look to keep costs low and raising your taxes only when it is really needed. I support infrastructure investment since we all the use the toilet every day. Councilmember Constant and I voted against paying more then we needed to with your money for services that are not core to the city.
Finally looking at my property tax bill closer if we remove the special assessments of $525, that leaves roughly $11,329 for straight property taxes. Where does that money go?
$6570 goes to my local school district.
$2039 goes to the County of Santa Clara.
$1019 goes to my local community college district.
680 goes to special districts (always get a fuzzy answer here).
Finally $1019 or a whopping 9% goes to the City of San Jose to pay for police, fire, road paving, street lights, libraries, parks, community centers, code enforcement, planning staff, school crossing guards and even 3 golf courses.
What do you think about the City of San Jose increasing fees and then paying more for services then is needed?