March 2021 Ballot Measures – West County Parcel Taxes and TOT

There are two measures up before voters on March 2 and both are limited to voters in the West Sonoma County Unified High School District (Sebastopol, Forestville) and the Bodega Bay Fire Protection District.

Measure A – West Sonoma County Unified High School District Parcel Tax.  This is a three year levy of $48 per parcel intended to raise $1,150,000 annually to pay primarily for teacher salaries.  Two-thirds (2/3) voter approval required.  This measure comes on the heels of last years’ renewal by voters of an existing $79 parcel tax assessment and just two years after voters approved a $93 million bond measure (SoCoTax opposed the bond measure; we took no position on the parcel tax renewal). 

Like most Sonoma County School Districts, WSCUHSD continues to experience declining enrollment figures.  Between the fires, floods, pandemic and high cost of housing, fewer and fewer young families choose to live here and school enrollments have suffered as a result.  All projections indicate this trend will continue for the foreseeable future. 

WSCUHSD’s two primary campuses are Analy High School in Sebastopol and El Molino High School in Forestville.  The District also operates Laguna High School, a continuation school housed on the Analy campus.  The two main campuses were built to accommodate an enrollment of over 2,500 students.  Current enrollment at Analy and El Molino has dropped from 2,100 in 2011 to 1,700 today and is projected to drop to about 1,400 in the next few years.  As a result, the district finds itself with facilities well in excess of its needs.  While declining enrollment figures translate to reduced state funding, the costs of maintaining its facilities continues to rise. 

A proposal put forth by the district’s board of trustees to consider consolidating the Analy and El Molino facilities generated a torrent of opposition from supporters of El Molino who feared that their smaller of the two schools would be closed.  Further consolidation discussions ceased.  Given the existing parcel tax and bond measures, coupled with the trustees’ refusal to further consider consolidation or other cost cutting measures, SoCoTax sees no reason give the district any more tax money.  We encourage the WSCUHSD board of trustees to do their duty and make the tough budget cutting decisions they were elected to make.  We recommend a NO vote on Measure A.

Measure B – West Sonoma County Transit Occupancy Tax.  This is a 4% increase to the existing transit occupancy tax (sometimes known as the hotel bed tax, or the TOT) intended to raise $2.7 million annually without expiration.  It applies to hotel, B&B and short term rentals within the areas comprised of the West Sonoma County Unified High School District and the Bodega Bay Fire Protection District.  One-half of the tax proceeds are earmarked to support paramedic and rescue services with the remaining half going to West Sonoma County Unified High School District. 

So, what’s really going on here?  The tax had been in the planning stages for some time and was originally intended to ensure that tourists visiting the area paid a portion of the cost of emergency medical and rescue services provided to them by the Bodega Bay FPD.  Had the measure made it to the ballot in that form, SoCoTax likely would not have opposed it.  But that’s not what happened.             A few weeks before the filing deadline for ballot measures, the WSCUHSD board of trustees proposed the Analy-El Molino consolidation discussed above re Measure A.  Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, who lives in Forestville and represents the West County area, was besieged by El Molino supporters alarmed that El Molino would be on the short end of the consolidation stick.  Hopkins pushed through some late changes to the measure and named WSCUHSD a co-beneficiary along with the Bodega Bay FPD.  Hopkins actions did not gain the unanimous support of her colleagues and Supervisor David Rabbit voted against the last minute changes questioning whether the board of supervisors should insert itself into school district matters.  Indeed, the move marks the first time the Board of Supervisors has meddled in the affairs of a school district (independent bodies with their own elected boards of trustees) and invites every other school district in the county to seek financial help from the county.  With no guidelines in place to govern the circumstances under which the Board of Supervisors will or will not intervene in the affairs of other school districts, and with great haste to meet the ballot measure filing deadline, we see this measure as ill-considered and bad public policy.  For these reasons, as well as the reasons expressed above in our discussion re Measure A, SoCoTax recommends a No vote on Measure B.

Comments are closed.