SMMUSD HDQTRS — At the Aug. 1 meeting of the Santa Monica-Malibu Board of Education, Gus Hasselquist made a plea.

The older man owns four properties that fall within district boundaries, which means the $385 million bond measure the board approved for the November ballot that night would impact him, drawing at his pension and Social Security check.

Could the board include a senior exemption for the bond, Hasselquist asked, much as they had for the most recent parcel tax, Measure R, passed in 2008?

His question illuminated two points.

First, the confusion between a parcel tax and a bond — Hasselquist feared he would be charged on each parcel individually, whereas a bond charges the owner based on the assessed value of their property.

The second will be a question facing voters in the district in November — what’s the tipping point?

If approved, the new bond measure, which would be used to improve facilities and make needed seismic repairs to local campuses, could cost homeowners an average of $185 per year, depending on the value of their home.

Because it’s a bond, the answer to Hasselquist’s direct question was a regretful “no” — no such senior exemption exists for a bond, unlike a parcel tax.

If approved by voters in November, the bond would add to the 11 other local and regional assessments that already appear on Santa Monica tax rolls, including Measure R and a previous bond, Measure BB, approved in 2006.

According to tax documents provided by the Los Angeles County Auditor-Controller’s Office, those two measures alone cost one homeowner on the 1000 block of Centinela Avenue $421.68 in the 2011-12 fiscal year, or slightly more than half of the $792.52 tacked on by the nine other assessments.

Another $109.21 of that total paid for the proceeds of bonds issued by Santa Monica College to support the construction occurring on that institution’s various campuses.

Would the additional cost break the bank for some Santa Monica taxpayers?

Neil Carrey isn’t so sure.

Carrey is the chair of the district’s Economic Feasibility Committee, the group that crafted the bond and hired a research firm to conduct a poll to assess its political viability.

Most people don’t look at the details of their tax bills, Carrey said.

“The answer, like anything, is that if people see the amount it could concern them,” Carrey said.

It may be helpful to the bond effort that approximately 70 percent of Santa Monicans rent.

The average apartment dweller would see a $16 bump in their yearly bills as a result of the bond, less than a tenth of what homeowners can expect.

According to Goodwin Simon Strategic Research, which conducted the polling, renters were considerably more likely to support the bond than homeowners, particularly homeowners over the age of 50.

Homeowners should think of measures like bonds and parcel taxes as investments in their property’s value rather than a detrimental tax, Carrey said.

Homes near good schools fetch a premium price, and hold their property values.

Realtor Kate Bransfield sees it every day in her business, which receives a lot of calls for properties near Franklin and Roosevelt elementary schools.

“Do the schools affect property values? Absolutely,” Bransfield said. “I’ve had people move here from across the country who have done their homework, saying, ‘I don’t care if it’s a tent, I want to be in the Franklin area.’”

Some people see extra assessments to support schools as an investment in their home’s value, other see them as the factor that pushes a home out of their reach.

“I’ve had the property taxes affect somebody’s ability to afford a property on occasion,” Bransfield said, although it varies on a case-by-case basis.

If the bond passes in November, most people won’t realize it immediately even if they are the kind of person who reads their tax bill line by line.

Unlike parcel taxes, bonds don’t hit bills immediately. It can take two or three years before the school district would be ready to issue any of the bonds, meaning property owners wouldn’t see an increase in their bill from the get go.

District officials are mindful of the fact that some, like Hasselquist, live on fixed income and could be negatively impacted by the new cost that would appear on their bills.

“That was one of the reasons that we put in the senior exemption for the parcel tax,” Carrey said. Bonds have neither a low-income nor a senior exemption.

It was a struggle for some board members as well, and Superintendent Sandra Lyon spoke specifically to the trade off when she introduced the item to the board on Aug. 1.

Board members voted 6 to 1, with Boardmember Ralph Mechur against, to put the bond before the voters.

The collective investment will come back to taxpayers in terms of increased property values, decreased crime and increased earnings, wrote Boardmember Oscar de la Torre in an e-mail.

“The societal cost of failing to educate our youth is a lot greater,” de la Torre wrote. “Statewide, our public education system is (in) crisis, and Santa Monica must serve as an example of what happens when residents, homeowners and renters alike work to support and sustain our public schools.”

 

ashley@smdp.com

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