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Regional Park District looks to extend property tax assessment; taxpayer groups balk.

Sunset Over Parks

Editor Note: The Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District is considering a measure to increase property taxes when its voters-passed 2004 parcel tax sunsets. The reason most pro-taxpayers group opposed this tax extension is due to the park district's broken promises to develop the park, along with other misconducts that are mentioned in the MC Weekly article below.

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Monterey County Weekly -- Posted: Thursday, July 2, 2015 12:00 am

by Kera Abraham

Monterey Peninsula Regional Park District General Manager Rafael Payan is getting lots of face-time lately with the people who’d like to cut off a major funding source for his agency.

The district’s current property tax assessment, which voters approved in 2004, generated more than $1.1 million in the 2014-15 fiscal year (about one-sixth of the district’s budget) and costs the average homeowner about $24 per year, according to Regional Parks figures.

The district is banking on voters to extend the tax, which expires in 2019. Payan says a vote to renew it might come sooner: The district has hired a company to poll residents on how the tax extension might be revised to appeal to voters, and when it has a good chance of passing.

“We don’t want to wait to 2019 to see when the best time to release this ballot measure is,” Payan says.

Hence, the schmooze sessions with the tax’s most likely opponents.

Payan has met with members of the Seaside Taxpayers Association (STA) and says he’s planning to meet with other taxpayers’ groups as well. “It’s been favorable,” he says. “We’re demonstrating the good we’ve done historically and are planning to do.”

STA Vice Chair Lawrence Samuels says Payan’s a nice guy to share a beer with, but his group isn’t feeling buddy-buddy about the tax.

He’s still sore about the generous pension payout to former Regional Parks General Manager Joe Donofrio, who retired in 2010 with a salary and benefits package topping $300,000. Samuels also complains that much of Regional Parks’ recently acquired land is inaccessible to the public due to a lack of parking and other infrastructure.

“We would not support [extending the assessment] because of what happened last time,” Samuels says. “The money was going to open up parks, and instead it went to someone’s big retirement.”

Ron Pasquinelli, president of the Monterey Peninsula Tax Association (MPTA) and a member of Regional Parks’ Assessment District Citizens Oversight Committee, echoes Samuels’ concerns. Pasquinelli says the MPTA supported the property tax assessment in 2004 but is unlikely to do so again.

“There’s a lot of unhappiness over what the board did with the last tax,” he says. “They promised us they were going to do all these good things, and the first thing [Donofrio] does is take out this big retirement pay. Then the board goes and buys these big chunks of land nobody can get to.”

Payan, who was hired in July 2013 at a salary of about $155,000, says he understands those concerns. But he defends the district’s efforts to bring parkland closer to the region’s cities.

The district has granted almost $800,000 to local parks and programs, according to a recent district presentation, and Payan says new partnerships are in the works to create a trail network connecting Sand City, Seaside, Marina and Fort Ord.

“I can see where [critics are] frustrated,” he says, “but I’m doing what I can to get past that.”

While Regional Parks expands, the Monterey County Parks Department is underfunded and downsizing. It closed Lake San Antonio just yesterday, July 1, and is also struggling with deferred maintenance.

But the department hasn’t considered floating a tax measure to fill in the budget holes, according to new County Parks Director Mark Mariscal.

“I’ve been here three months,” he says. “If I even proposed that without a discussion, I could see being hung by my toenails from a tree.”

Last Updated: Jul 02, 15

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Regional Park District looks to extend property tax assessment; taxpayer groups balk.