To the Editor:
The League of Women Voters of Alameda typically provides pros and cons of local ballot measures for the voters and will sometimes take a position on them. We have studied Alameda City Measures E and F and present our reviews and positions below. We urge voters to study the issues for all the measures through voteredge.org.
Ballot Measure E: Charter Amendment to increase Mayor/Council salaries
LWVA Position: NEUTRAL
Alameda’s part-time Mayor and Councilmembers have been earning a small stipend for decades. They are currently paid for at least two meetings a month. The Mayor gets $200 for each meeting. Councilmembers receive $50 for each meeting. Both the Mayor and the Councilmembers also receive benefits for healthcare insurance and other incidental costs, such as car and technology use.
A change in pay currently requires a City Charter amendment. Ballot Measure E, which was placed on the ballot by the Mayor and some Councilmembers, would authorize the Council to set their own salaries, with future raises to be based on a formula not to exceed 30 percent of the median Bay Area annual salary. Today this would be approximately $26,000 a year. It is unclear why this particular formula was chosen, rather than using an average of the salaries of their counterparts in other Bay Area cities or salaries of those who live in Alameda.
The ballot arguments in favor of the measure say that the current stipend is a barrier to civic engagement, pointing as evidence to a 2019 League of Women Voters’ workshop on possible charter amendments. But there are many barriers to serving in office besides compensation. The current stipend may not necessarily be a barrier for entering or staying in public office, as evidenced by those who repeatedly seek such office, or by others seeking unpaid appointments to boards and commissions.
Some people do not have the time or energy required to do the job, and closed-session meetings often start at 5 p.m., which might conflict with some people’s work schedules. Others do not want the burdens of running a campaign or the political mudslinging associated with campaigning or holding public office.
The ballot arguments in opposition to Measure E say the issue needs more discussion and an analysis of alternative formulas for a pay increase before voters decide on this particular formula. They say this issue should be on the 2024 ballot, not this one.
- Replaces stipend with a meaningful salary.
- Enables council salaries to increase with inflation.
- Lower-cost alternatives were not thoroughly discussed or analyzed before this higher-cost alternative was placed on the ballot.
- Fails to offer evidence that this pay increase will attract those of lower financial means to run for office.
Ballot Measure F: City of Alameda Transient Occupancy Tax Regional Parity Measure
LWVA Position: NEUTRAL
Visitors who occupy hotels, motels, and short-term rentals in the city of Alameda currently pay a 10 percent Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT). This amount is charged on the total rent for the stay. At the current rate the city receives $2 million annually from the TOT.
Measure F would increase the TOT to 14 percent. The additional revenue would go into the City’s general fund to be used at the council’s discretion. It is estimated that the increase in TOT would add $700,000 to $900,000 annually to the general fund. If approved, the increase would be effective January 2023.
The City states that revenues would be used for essential city services (parks, libraries, public safety, school mental health) and the measure gives City Council broad authority to spend as it sees fit.
- Alameda City’s TOT is lower than most surrounding cities so an increase would not discourage visitors from staying in local hotels and short-term rentals.
- In contrast to the TOT in some other communities, there are no restrictions on the use of the funds, giving the City flexibility to fund its greatest needs.
- It is not a new tax, just an increase to an existing one.
- The tax would make the city increasingly dependent on direct voting by citizens to determine tax sources and rates.
- Perpetuates a complex tax administration system with general taxes that differ for hotels, restaurants, and general retailers, among other businesses.
- There is no restriction on the use of funds, in contrast to some cities where the tax is dedicated to a specific purpose and in others where a citizen’s committee recommends how the funds should be spent.
President, League of Women Voters, Alameda Chapter.
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