School Bond Tax Rates by School District in Contra Costa County

To com­mem­o­rate the place­ment of an­other WCCUSD bond (#6) on the November bal­lot by our school board, I took a look at my own prop­erty tax bill to see what I was al­ready pay­ing even be­fore the ex­tra es­ti­mated $48/$100K would get tacked on.

It seemed like a lot, but what about other dis­tricts in the county? Is $232/$100K as­sessed value (pro­posed to be bumped to $280) a lot? Here are my re­sults for the last billing cy­cle dis­played as a ta­ble, a Tableau-gen­er­ated chart, and a crude heat map.

Unified District or Elem. District
within High School District
Tax Rate
West Contra Costa$232.20
Pittsburg$144.30
Oakley/​Liberty$115.30
Brentwood/​Liberty$107.40
Byron/​Liberty$73.10
San Ramon$66.40
Moraga/​Acalanes$64.50
Lafayette/​Acalanes$61.20
Mt. Diablo$61.20
Martinez$60.80
Orinda/​Acalanes$60.70
Walnut Creek/​Acalanes$57.30
John Swett$41.80
Antioch$41.70
Knightsen/​Liberty’$38.60
Canyon/​Acalanes$33.30
AVERAGE$78.74
MEDIAN$61.20

(The heat map’s red­ness is pro­por­tional to the per­cent­age of the high­est tax rate.)

How I Got This

The County Auditor pub­lishes a list of ad val­orem (per as­sessed value) tax rates in October. I got a link to the last re­port from a re­porter. On page 3 is a list of the bonds and their rates. I picked them out by dis­trict (ei­ther uni­fied K-12 or el­e­men­tary within a high school dis­trict) and added them up.

You can see all of this in an on­line spread­sheet. The sec­ond “Tax Rates” tab lists the in­di­vid­ual bonds; the first “By Districts” tab com­bines the bond tax rates and charts them.

Conclusion

People in the West Contra Costa Unified School District pay an in­cred­i­bly dis­pro­por­tion­ate tax rate for school bonds even be­fore tack­ing on an ex­tra 20% in­crease in the tax rate through this pro­posed new bond. Remember, WCCUSD is a de­clin­ing en­roll­ment dis­trict. The clos­est com­peti­tors in tax rate are dis­tricts that have had sub­stan­tial growth re­cently. While I’m sure there are ra­tio­nal­iza­tions for us hav­ing a high school bond tax rate (be­fore the new bond is even added in), the ra­tio­nal­iza­tions would have to ex­plain not just why WCCUSD is com­pa­ra­ble to ex­pand­ing dis­tricts, but why we leap over all other school dis­tricts in the county to such an ex­ag­ger­at­edly high tax rate.

What’s on Your Property Tax Bill?

Another “Ramsey Tax” (WCCUSD bond #6) has now been ap­proved for the bal­lot by our school board. What bet­ter time than now to check out what we’re pay­ing ex­tra to live in the West Contra Costa Unified School District.

Keep in mind all prop­erty tax bills are pub­lic info and web-ac­ces­si­ble (in California). I looked up mine from the Contra Costa County Tax Collector’s site.

The bill it­self is an in­tim­i­dat­ing jum­ble. On the left-hand side are par­cel taxes (not di­rectly based on the as­sessed value of the par­cel), and on the right-hand side are ad val­orem taxes (based on the as­sessed value of the par­cel). School bonds are ad val­orem taxes.

I pulled out the school taxes and put them in an on­line spread­sheet. I also added ad­di­tional con­tex­tual info and used “typ­i­cal” par­cel val­ues from a Contra Costa Times ed­i­to­r­ial.

The Bonds

What’s truly as­ton­ish­ing is just how huge the bill is now for 5 bonds, es­pe­cially com­pared to every­thing else on the ex­tra ad val­orem side. For BART, the wa­ter dis­trict, the parks dis­trict, and com­mu­nity col­lege, the com­bined rate is $32.30/$100K; for WCCUSD, the rate is $232.20/$100K. That’s a more than 7:1 ra­tio.

MRAD

Another in­ter­est­ing as­pect of the tax bill is the MRAD (Maintenance and Recreation Assessment District) as­sess­ment. This de­serves its own ar­ti­cle, but here’s the short story. It’s a $72/​parcel tax. It is mostly used to pay for “Maintenance and Operations” (80%). This is prob­a­bly all salaries that would have to be funded by gen­eral op­er­at­ing funds oth­er­wise, so it’s a lot like the other par­cel tax. A small part of the ex­pen­di­tures is used for fund­ing small con­struc­tion-re­lated projects at schools, so it’s also used a lit­tle like bond funds.

What Next?

My next step is to poke around tax bills for other school dis­tricts to see how much other school dis­tricts charge on the bills and check the pro­por­tion of taxes for con­stuc­tion vs. op­er­a­tions.

View the on­line spread­sheet.

What a Difference a Month Makes

On July 2d, the WCCUSD School Board met in a spe­cial meet­ing. People told them loud and clear “Enhanced par­cel tax, no bond.” The Board au­tho­rized a par­cel-tax-only sur­vey unan­i­mously. Charles Ramsey said such a (no-bond) cam­paign would have to be con­ducted with­out him. For a week or so, it was West Contra Costa Spring as peo­ple quickly started or­ga­niz­ing a grass­roots cam­paign un­der the name Support West County Students, with­out Charles and his (friends’) money, to sup­port a par­cel tax in­crease cam­paign.

Now, it’s August 1st and the same board is ready to place an­other $300M+ bond (#6) on the Nov. bal­lot, only two years af­ter pass­ing the pre­vi­ous $300M+ bond (#5), and to place an ex­ten­sion only for the cur­rent par­cel tax that doesn’t ac­tu­ally ex­pire till 2014. Expect an­other heav­ily funded as­tro­turf cam­paign.

Anyway, to re­live those hal­cyon days of early July, I’ve up­loaded sound files from the July 2d meet­ing. I dig­i­tized the parts of the au­dio cas­settes for the “Funding” item in the meet­ing. They can be played or down­loaded from:

http://ge.tt/7pghVNL/v/0?c (be­gin­ning from the 1st tape)
http://ge.tt/5uFyVNL/v/0?c (end­ing from the 2d tape)