West County voters reject school tax measure
By Kimberly S. Wetzel

Contra Costa Times
Article Launched:08/28/2007 09:45:06 PM PDT


Beginning in 2009, students in the West Contra Costa school district may face the possibility of no counselors to advise them, librarians to sharpen their reading skills, or the opportunity to score that touchdown.

Election results for the district's Measure G parcel tax released Tuesday night show that the measure did not get the required two-thirds vote to pass: Just 54 percent of voters said yes to paying 11 cents per square foot of property they own to help the district continue to offer school supplies, reduced class sizes and athletic programs to its students.

The results mean that once the current parcel tax expires in 2009, the district will have to make almost $10 million in cuts annually.

"Well, there isn't a plan B, so we're going to have to figure out what we're doing for 2008-09," said Superintendent Bruce Harter, who gathered with other school district officials Tuesday at a cafe in Point Richmond to await results. "We're going to have to figure out what the voters are telling us because there is a message out there."

Of the 25,683 ballots counted, 13,928 were in favor and 11,755 were opposed. Although county elections officials still have to count 1,208 ballots hand-delivered Tuesday, the number is too small to change the outcome.

Measure G asked property owners to pay 11 cents per square foot of property beginning in July 2009. Homeowners pay 7.2 cents per square foot for the existing tax, which expires in June 2009. Measure G would have raised about $14 million annually to pay for counselors, librarians, art and athletics, school supplies and additional safety costs, including school resource officers at the high schools.

The owner of a 1,500-square-foot home would have paid $165 per year for eight years; property owners pay $108..

Harter said the district must now look at phasing out crucial student services over the next couple of years. It is possible that the district could put another parcel tax on the ballot, he said, but officials must do it soon and there is still the strong possibility it could fail.

"If we don't do it by March of next year, we'll have to start making cuts," Harter said.

The parcel tax was the only item on the mail-in ballot for West County registered voters. More than 95,000 ballots were sent out to residents in Richmond, El Cerrito, Pinole, Hercules, San Pablo, El Sobrante and unincorporated areas of the county.

District supporters spent about $200,000 campaigning for the measure, and those who gathered Tuesday stood in shock when the results were announced to the crowd. A couple of people wondered if recent mistrust of the district's use of bond measure money might have caused voter skepticism.

Elections officials said they will likely finish counting the remaining ballots this week.

There were no reported voting problems in the election, although several people complained that their ballot instructions indicated they could drop off their ballots at the designated West County drop-off sites all day long. When they got to the sites -- the El Cerrito Community Center, the First Baptist Church of Pinole and Richmond Fire Station No. 66 -- they were closed.

Elections official Candy Lopez said she did not get any complaints and said the ballot instructions provided to voters indicated that they could only be returned between 4 and 8 p.m.

"If they separated the instructions from the ballots, then there could be some confusion," Lopez said.

Reach Kimberly S. Wetzel at 510-262-2798 or at kwetzel@bayareanewsgroup.com.