Berkeley considers tax increases for November election

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Ruby Sapia/Staff

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The city is considering an increase in local taxes to fund projects such as affordable housing through a ballot measure in November’s election.

Berkeley City Council approved carrying out public opinion research on five separate revenue-raising measures to fund affordable housing, mental health resources, community policing and homelessness services, in its regular meeting Tuesday evening.

The city will reach out to residents to assess the favorability of the proposed policies; the conclusions will be used to construct a ballot measure for the 2018 electionThe survey will take place in March, and will question Berkeley voters about their opinions on two general obligation bonds, as well as property tax, sales tax and parcel tax increases.

“We are just studying these concepts,” said Mayor Jesse Arreguín. “I think we want to see what people think … and then make some decisions once we have data about what to prioritize on the ballot.”

Councilmember Cheryl Davila also proposed researching the public’s view on increasing salaries for council members in order to make it feasible for low-income residents to hold office, but the council did not approve her motion to include this question in the poll.

Councilmember Linda Maio expressed concern that surveyed residents would group the taxes together as a total, instead of looking at each individually, clarifying that most residents will see a raise in their taxes of a “couple hundred dollars” a year.

Estimates made by the city show that a hike of the graduate transfer tax for properties could yield up to $5 million, which would be directed to affordable housing.

Arreguín said these funds would go toward very low-income to moderate-income residents, including teachers, seniors and disabled individuals.

According to Arreguín, a sales tax increase of 0.5 percent to a total of 9.75 percent would both yield $9 million more and bring up Berkeley’s tax rate to that of other Alameda County cities. This “special tax” to provide community safety revenue would go toward retaining and attracting police officers and providing mental health outreach for patients in Berkeley.

A new parcel tax — a form of property tax — would raise another $5 million for homelessness services, rapid rehousing, navigation centers and shelters, according to Arreguín. The public will also share input on whether this tax should expire after 12 years or continue indefinitely.

Public opinion researcher David Mermin from Lake Research Partners, who is working with the city on this poll, noted that a second round of polling will be conducted once they have gathered initial opinion data from the residents.

The council dedicated the meeting to honor the Parkland shooting victims and in recognition of Zachary Cruz Pedestrian Safety Month.

In addition, the council members sent a letter to the district attorney in support of David Cole and extended a pilot program for electric car charging stations.

Sophia Brown-Heidenreich covers city government. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sophiabrownh.