Financial costs of Measures B&E for Albany homeowners

First of all, I want to apologize. During the run up to the recent election, I did not pay enough attention to the details of the Albany Unified School District (AUSD) measures B and E. As I stated previously on this blog, as a former school board member, and a current city council member, I didn’t think it was my place to initiate a conversation. That was my mistake.

In the last week, I have been pouring over the information and building my own spreadsheet models, something I learned to do many years ago when I was a state economic analyst. I have come to the conclusion, with some frustration, that the voters were not given clear information about how much measures B and E will cost them.

For example, take the number that was tossed around before the election–B and E together would cost no more than $180/$100K of assessed value. It turns out that figure is misleading. It’s better to think of the $180 figure is a floor, not a ceiling.

So have a seat, take a deep breath, and let me start by giving you a few numbers. According to school district estimates, over the next 30 years, our town will be responsible for paying off $223 million of school district debt, an average of $7.4 million per year for 30 years. A large part of this total, $148 million, is due to Measure B alone.

To be fair, the voter guide did mention this figure in the the analysis of Measure B. However, the implications for individual Albany homeowners were not made clear either in the vote guide or in the information that I have found on the school district’s website. In what follows, I do the best I can to provide that information.

For every $100,000 of assessed value in 2017, during the next 30 years, Albany property owners will pay from $7,500 to $9,000 on AUSD debt, or about $250 to $300 annually. In Albany, the median assessed property value for 2017 is about $400,000. For that median property, AUSD-related property taxes will be $1,000 to $1,200 annually for 30 years.

In this spreadsheet model, you can plug in your 2017 assessed value and the view the graph of how your AUSD property taxes evolve over time. The detailed explanation of how I created this model, with its upper- and lower-bound estimates, is on the “narrative” tab. Click on the “data and graph” tab to see the information there.

For example, if you are a new homeowner in Albany who just paid $1 million for a little house, your assessed value is the sale price. You will be paying AUSD-related property taxes of $2,500 to $3,000 annually for 30 years. During the next three decades, you will pay a total of $75,000 to $90,000 to retire AUSD debt.

AUSD_taxThe graph above (click to enlarge) is from the model. It assumes $100,000 of assessed value in 2017. The red line is the upper bound estimate of annual property tax payments for AUSD’s combined total debt service (CTDS) for the three existing bonds and Measures B and E. The green line is the lower bound. The purple and blue lines show what AUSD’s debt would look without measures B and E. The three older bonds are paid off in 2030, and Measure E is paid off in 2038. Measure B is paid off in 2047.

Note that the AUSD property tax will double from about $150 to more than $300 per $100K of assessed value (in 2017) by 2021. It will remain that high until 2027. It will gradually decline after that, but even the lower-bound scenario it never dips below $180.

I can’t say for sure, but I don’t think this is what many Albany voters were expecting when they voted in favor of measures B and E. The supporters of the measures B and E had very little incentive to set the record straight.

As a city council member, I don’t have much incentive to set the record straight, either. Albany voters would be more inclined to support city tax measures in the fall elections if they didn’t know what’s coming.

But as an Albany homeowner with a $600K assessed value, and one who is planning on retiring in a year, I know I am feeling resentful. Not so much about the big dent that measures B and E and will put in my early retirement years, but because there has been so little information provided about their financial consequences.


A quick election returns analysis


Measure AA lost (failed to achieve a 2/3 supermajority)  in Solano, Sonoma, Napa and Contra Costa counties, i.e. it lost in all the relatively rural, low-income northern counties (Marin is exception), and it lost in one NE county. It did achieve simple majorities in all counties. It won because the counties where it achieved a 2/3 supermajority (Marin, Alameda, SF, Santa Clara, San Mateo) tend to be more populous than the northern counties. Figures here.

Measure AA is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It was designed to suck money out of the North Bay (against the will of voters there) and the rural southern parts of Santa Clara County, and ship it to Silicon Valley. It worked pretty much as it was designed to. Regional government is a fine idea if county voters get to vote for it, but that never happened for the establishment of the SF Bay Restoration Authority, the little-known agency which put this measure on the ballot.

Half the proceeds with be distributed back to the nine counties weighted by their population, while the other half will be allocated by the governing board, which means the vast majority of the funding will go to the South Bay. Four of the seven members are from counties where AA won (three from the South Bay), one is the director of the East Bay Regional Park District, and only two are from counties where AA lost.

A $12 parcel tax doesn’t seem like much, but it sets a very bad precedent, and that was the point. There is a real need for a functional, representative regional government for the Bay Area. But we are not careful we’ll end up with a government that resembles our nation’s capital–dysfunctional, driven by lobbyists and pandering the wealthy and powerful.


Here in Albany, Measures B and E both passed, although it seems they got by with a little help from their friends. This is just one step away from pay-to-play, and while it’s not illegal, it is certainly distasteful.

The three AUSD items I personally worked on–the Nov. 2004 bond, the Nov. 2005 parcel tax, and the Feb. 2008 pool bond–all won with yes vote counts between 4,000 and 6,000 (see table below). These efforts were more in the Albany tradition of organizing friends and neighbors to drop simple leaflets on porches, not on spending lots of money to mail glossy brochures.

I found the information in the table below on the Alameda Country voter registrar website. The voter turn-out for Measures B and E was very low, at about 40 percent of Albany’s 10,492 registered voters. Measure B got 3,014 yes votes, Measure E 2,916 yes votes. Thus each measure won with yes votes from slightly less than 30 percent of registered Albany voters.

While it’s very unusual in Albany’s voting history for any measure to pass with only about 3,000 votes, it also happened with AUSD parcel tax measures I and J in Nov.  2009. Voter turnout was similar in Nov. 2009 to this month’s election. Turnouts are typically lower when there is neither a presidential nor a congressional election at stake.

In 2009, the financial implications of Measures I and J were relatively small–Measure I was an annual $149, 5-year parcel tax that was renewed by Measure LL in 2014. Measure J consolidated existing parcel taxes and adjusted them all for inflation. There were exemptions for seniors and low income residents. In contrast, Measures B and E together will cost most Albany homeowners between $500 and $1,500 annually, except for those who bought their houses decades ago. No exemptions.

We don’t know much about the attitudes of the  approximately 60 percent of Albany voters who didn’t vote at all this month. Were they aware of and happy with either outcome, or will they be shocked when they see their property tax bill? I guess we’ll find out.

Note: As of Friday afternoon, June 10, the county Registrar of Voters (ROV) has updated the counts for measures B and E, finding roughly 10 percent more votes, but leaving the percentages virtually unchanged. Measure B vote tallies are now 3,365 yes and 1,540 no. Measure E vote tallies are now 3,266 yes and 1,227 no.

Tuesday morning, June 14,  I called the Alameda County Registrar of Voters. I was told that all vote-by-mail ballots had been counted, and that they were working on provisionals, but that those probably don’t affect Albany much. Vote-by-mail ballots have dramatically increased, which is why they have taken so long to count. New totals:
Measure B vote tallies are now 4,375 yes and 2,018 no. Measure E vote tallies are now 4,274 yes and 1,577 no. Updated count of registered voters (RV) is 10,984

For Measure E, 53.3 percent of RV voted, 38.9 percent of RV voted yes.
For Measure B, 58.2 percent of RV voted, 39.8 percent of RV voted yes.

AUSD bond and parcel tax measures
measure date threshold yes no % yes purpose
A Nov-04 55% 5,879 1,428 80.5% bldg bond
A Nov-05 2/3 4,140 1,901 68.5% parcel tax
E Feb-08 55% 4,667 1,600 74.5% pool bond
I Nov-09 2/3 2,975 923 76.3% parcel tax
J Nov-09 2/3 3,011 882 77.3% parcel tax
LL Nov-14 2/3 4,875 924 84.1% parcel tax
B Jun-16 2/3 3,014 1,378 68.6% bldg bond
E Jun-16 55% 2,916 1,112 72.4% bldg bond
Notes on recent measures:
I New 5-year, $149 parcel tax, inflation adjustment, senior/low-inc exemptions
J combined existing parcel taxes, $555, no sunset, inflation adjustment, senior/low-inc exemptions
LL continuation of measure I for 6 years, $278, inflation adjustment, adds SSI, SSDI exemptions
B rebuilds two K-6 schools, GO bonds, no exemptions, $120/$100K assessed value
E rebuilds site for middle school, GO bonds, no exemptions, $60/$100K assessed value
Source:, 2016 vote counts are preliminary