Taxpayers bear the burden of unfunded mandate | April 25, 2008 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Newsfront - April 25, 2008

Taxpayers bear the burden of unfunded mandate

Danville raises stormwater utility assessment fees by $2.50 a year to help pay for new requirements

by Meghan Neal

The Danville Town Council voted April 15 to increase stormwater utility assessment fees by $2.50 a year, in order to comply with increasingly strict clean water requirements. The annual fee will go from $27.50 to $30 per residential unit.

The hike is the town's attempt to fund the new Municipal Regional Stormwater Permit that is being reissued throughout the Bay Area with strict and costly new rules.

The permit is mandated by the state and federal governments, but neither will provide the necessary funding to meet the new requirements, which will cost Danville $4.2 million over five years.

Since half that cost is unfunded, the town must come up with more than $2 million on its own. The fee increase will make a dent, generating $225,000. The council hasn't yet decided where the remaining funds will come from, but the general fund and more increased fees are likely options.

"Our taxpayers are going to end up paying for it," said Town Manager Joe Calabrigo.

For that reason Councilman Mike Shimansky voted against the increase at the meeting this month. He was the only member of the council to do so. He doesn't like the idea of raising "taxes" during a possible recession, he said.

However an assessment fee is not the same thing as a tax, distinguished Calabrigo. The fee is determined based on the benefit to the property owner, not on property value.

"When we talk about it being terrible timing to increase anything, I think you have to put it in context," he added.

Essentially, there's no easy way out of the predicament. With fines for not complying with the permit up to $10,000 per day, that's just not an option, he said.

Calabrigo pointed out that compared to other cities in the county, Danville's stormwater fee is relatively mild. And the town has been judicious in only increasing the fee when necessary, he said. The last increase was in 2004, also by $2.50 per year.

Money aside, Shimansky also expressed skepticism that the clean water regulations have actually been making a difference.

"No one can tell me if our creeks in Danville are cleaner now that we have spent over a half million dollars a year in property tax assessments than they were before Danville residents began paying these taxes," he said. "I believe Danville and its citizens are doing a fine job protecting the Bay from pollution and they shouldn't be rewarded by taxing them for doing so."

Calabrigo said that given his druthers he wouldn't volunteer to do all the things the town is being required to do, either.

He and other town officials attended a hearing last month with the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, the group responsible for implementing the mandate, to try to negotiate certain aspects of the permit.

While the town agrees clean water is important, the general sentiment is that some of the regulations are over the top.

"I wouldn't spend this much money to do them," Calabrigo said. "But that's the federal and state government telling us."

Mayor Candace Andersen said no one on the council is happy about the unfunded mandate, but the cost of not complying with it is significant. Therefore the town is continuing to cooperate, while trying to keep costs down.

It's likely the water board will agree to delay implementing the permit until the middle of the upcoming fiscal year, said Calabrigo. That would save the town about $200,000 and also buy the council time to dig up the rest of the money.

The stormwater utility assessment fee increase will be reflected in the next property tax bill, which goes out in August.