Parcel tax committee receives additional funds

To date, the committee has received $61,500 to determine whether a parcel tax that would raise money for the financially hard-hit school district would receive voter approval.

By Jonathan Friedman – Special to The Malibu Times

The committee determining the feasibility of a parcel tax election for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified District received $11,500 last Thursday to do additional research. The Board of Education unanimously approved the committee’s request. The district had given the committee $50,000 in August.

Committee member Rochelle Fanali said a second telephone poll is needed to “probe a little deeper to understand a little better about how voters feel … in these very complicated times.”

The board formed a committee in August to explore the possibility of imposing an “emergency/temporary parcel tax” because of the SMMUSD’s bleak financial outlook, which has gotten worse since that time. Since the district receives a majority of its revenue from the state, Sacramento’s financial crisis trickles down to the SMMUSD. The district has $8.7 million in cuts on the table. This includes staff reductions, which means an increase in classroom sizes.

The SMMUSD is operating on a $10 million deficit for the current school year. That amount is expected to increase during at least the next two years under the district’s current budget plan. The SMMUSD’s financial reserves must cover the deficit spending. But there is not enough money in the reserves to do that much longer.

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The poll took place this weekend, with people asked if they could support an annual tax as low as $225 and as high as $425. The committee will make a presentation to the board based on its research at the Jan. 14 meeting. Committee Chair Neil Carrey said there is not a guarantee it will determine an election is feasible.

“This is probably one of the most complex times that we’ve faced in a long time in addressing the needs of the school district with the situation with the state [and] the fact of the uncertainties of the length of time that the economy is going to take to recover,” Carrey said.

Carrey said if an election were to take place, the best time would be in late May. And he said it should be done as a mail-in election. The district must notify the county 120 days in advance if it plans to hold an election, although it is under no obligation to have one if it does notify the county. A ballot measure must be prepared at least 88 days prior to Election Day.

District residents are already paying a $346 per parcel tax to the SMMUSD. Voters last year approved the measure for that tax, which has no expiration date.

Last month, the district’s Financial Oversight Committee, or FOC, presented potential revenue boosters to the board, including targeted fundraising, licensing the use of district names for merchandise, and placing ads on campuses and buses as well as on the district’s Web site. But these measures would only help in the long term and even require small upfront costs.

Also at last week’s meeting, the board elevated Barry Snell from vice president to president. He replaces Ralph Mechur in the position. Board member Kelly Pye was named vice president. Snell and Pye have been serving on the board since 2006.

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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