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Measure A, soak up the information

By: Jon Brines, Special to The Placer Herald
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Despite the all-Republican city council’s unanimous support for Measure A, the Placer County Republican Party leadership is bucking the city by coming out against the so-called park tax, Measure A.
Ballots for the special all-mail election will begin arriving in registered Rocklin voter mailboxes by the end of July. There will be no polling places for this election and the ballots are expected to be returned with an included postage-paid envelope.
Rocklin Mayor Peter Hill said the decision to have a mail-in election was about the cost with general elections and primaries nearly a year away.
“Nobody is trying to pull a fast one on the voters,” Hill said. “We would lose money if we wait.”
Rocklin resident and opponent Ed Rowen said he thinks many voters will be caught off guard by the special mail election.
“The way it was done is strange,” Rowen said. “Instead of waiting to the general election or the primary, they are doing it through the mail in the middle of the summer.”
Initial city estimates put the special election cost near $80,000, but with the tax expiring last month, the city would soon lose half a million more dollars in tax revenue by the 2010 elections, according to city officials.
“Also, the state may put a bunch of things on the ballot trying to raise taxes, etc. and our little measure would get lost in that mess,” Hill said. ”We also know that holding a regular special election would be much more costly and voter turn out would be very low.” 
Rocklin resident and Measure A supporter Diana Ruslin, said she gladly payed the $30 on her annual property tax bill to help maintain the city’s 30 parks and allow her 9-year-old son to play youth sports.
“Our parks are a jewel of the community and I want to make sure they stay that way,” Ruslin said. “This will not raise taxes, merely keep park funding at the same level residents have been paying since they requested it in 1988.”
Placer County Republicans Chairman Tom Hudson, who helped write the ballot argument against Measure A, said the city is not making the cuts it needs to make parks a priority.
“We think people are already paying tax on the parks and it is not being spent for the parks,” Hudson said. “It is being spent for less popular things that they will never be put on the ballot.”
Hill said since the city first started collecting the park assessment, it has been used strictly for park maintenance.
“The park maintenance funds cannot be used for anything other than park maintenance,” Hill said. “The wording in the ballot governs the use of the funds.”
In the 2008-09 budget, Rocklin spent more than $3 million taking care of its parks, of which $1.2 million came from Mello-Roos bonds and $499,000 came from the Park Development & Maintenance District or park tax. The rest came from the general fund, which has been hit by millions of dollars in lost tax revenues during the economic decline, according to city officials.
Hudson said the city needs to do more to keep the price of park maintenance down.
“If the reason you can’t afford routine park maintenance is because you are paying more to mow the lawns, then you need to go out there and change your business model,” Hudson said.
Councilman Brett Storey said the city is working to reduce each park’s turf by as much as 15 percent in favor of wood chips or drought-resistant landscaping to cut future costs.
“You can save money in the long run not only from mowing but watering and maintenance,” Storey said. “We’re looking at those things independent of the park tax.”
The city has furlough Fridays, laid off workers, forced early retirements, outsourced work to contractors and restructured city departments to balance the budget. Vice Mayor Scott Yuill said the Republican Central Committee, chaired by Hudson, doesn’t know the facts.
“On several occasions I’ve offered to the central committee the opportunity to sit down with me and review the budget, but no one has ever taken me up on it,” Yuill said. “That offer stands.”
Hudson said he is not against taxes but residents need a break to cope with the bad economy and letting the tax expire is the right thing to do.
“A lot of people are being laid off or furloughed by the state and they are being hit from every direction,” Hudson said. “We just don’t think it is the right time to do this.”
A coalition of Rocklin sports clubs support the tax and actually petitioned the city to put the issue on the ballot. Hudson believes more support could be raised from the business community to help pay for park maintenance through a public/private partnership.
“If we allowed one Starbucks on one corner of just one park that would raise more than the whole tax is going to bring in for the entire year,” Hudson said. “There are a lot of options that they have that no one is looking into because it is already easier to go to tax payers as the first resort instead of the last resort.”
Hill said the Starbucks idea is tacky.
“The idea of selling our parks to commercial sponsors is not something the city council thinks is in the best interest of the citizens who live here,” Hill said. “We don’t want to be at the whim of a bunch of businesses that may be having a good year or a bad year.” 
Voter Information is available at the Placer County Elections Web site placer.ca.gov/elections.

Measure A dates to remember
July 27 — first day ballots are mailed
Aug. 10 — last day to register for this election
Aug. 25 — Election Day
Aug. 17-24 — Election staff will be at two locations to accept ballots and answer questions — 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays; 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends and 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Aug. 25 at Rocklin Fire Station No. 2, 3401 Crest Drive, Rocklin; Placer County Elections Division, 2956 Richardson Drive in Auburn.

For election result coverage, go to www.placerherald.com after Aug. 27.

For more photos: Kids enjoy benefits of parks