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Lafayette superintendent talks about Measure B’s senior exemption, plus Gerringer/Tramutola

By Jonathan Morales
Friday, April 1st, 2011 at 1:49 pm in Lafayette, Schools.

You can read my article about Measure B, the Lafayette school district’s most recent parcel tax campaign, here.

In it, tax opponent Larry Pines raises some concerns about the senior exemption (any property owner over 65 does not have to pay the tax). Why, he asks, is the exemption not based on income (like in the Moraga and Orinda school districts)?

It’s a valid question. Yes, many seniors are on a fixed income. But others may still be working or retired wealthy. And many bought their homes decades ago, with property taxes kept low thanks to Proposition 13.

I wasn’t able to ask Lafayette superintendent Fred Brill about the senior exemption until after my deadline yesterday. When I did speak with him, he said the concerns are legitimate.

But he also said the district wanted to keep the parameters of Measure B identical to those in its current Measure J parcel tax.

“We are essentially tacking this onto our existing parcel tax,” Brill said. “What we were very clear about was we didn’t want to create complexity or confusion for the voters or the seniors.”

The district will re-evaluate its parcel tax needs, and structure, in 2015 when Measure J and Measure B, if approved, expire.

How many seniors are exempting themselves from the Measure J tax? For 2010-11, it’s 1,107, or just over 11 percent of the district’s 9,758 parcels.

Something that is also worth mentioning is the relationship between Lafayette school board member Teresa Gerringer and Larry Tramutola, who runs the consulting firm that helped craft Measure B.

Gerringer has been a member of Tramutola’s staff since March 2010. During my conversation with Pines, he criticized Gerringer’s parcel tax advocacy given her connection to the firm assisting with the parcel tax campaign. Others have also questioned on local blogs whether her involvement on the board is a conflict of interest.

The answer is it depends. If Gerringer voted voted on any school board action involving Tramutola, that would be a clear violation of conflict of interest laws.

But she didn’t. Gerringer abstained from the Aug. 18 board vote that hired Tramutola for the parcel tax planning process (minutes are posted here). And “hired” is a stretch — Tramutola agreed to do the work at no cost to the district.

Tramutola has been involved with every Lafayette district parcel tax since 1992, Gerringer said, and it was because of that relationship — and the potential for a conflict of interest — that he agreed to do the work for free, an opportunity the board naturally jumped at.

That won’t necessarily satisfy everyone. Certainly Tramutola’s firm will benefit if Measure B passes because it will have another success story. But when the Tramutola contract — a pro bono contract — came up for a board vote, Gerringer did what was required by abstaining. And she’s not apologizing for her ongoing advocacy.

“(The parcel tax) was one of the last resorts that we went to and I believe there’s a need, and so I’m going to continue to advocate at the state level and at the local level for public education,” she said this morning. “(The opposition is) going to keep trying to find something, and I have to keep bringing it back to it’s about the need for the students.”

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