Sacramento group proposes parcel tax for youth programs

Sacramento property owners would pay $29 more per parcel in taxes to finance youth programs if a proposed ballot measure qualifies and passes.

A coalition of community groups in Sacramento has proposed a ballot measure that would levy a $29 parcel tax on each piece of property in the city and use the money collected to pay for jobs programs and education for Sacramento’s youth.

The Youth Jobs and Opportunity Act was born after a failed attempt to place a sales tax increase on the ballot in 2008. But unlike that measure, this one is not a sales tax hike and has no money earmarked for law enforcement.

The fund would go toward three categories: Youth jobs and workforce readiness, improving academic achievement, and reconnecting at-risk youth to school and workforce, according to the proposal.

The act is supported by Sacramentans for Youth, whose membership includes Sacramento ACT, the Yes to Youth Coalition, and the Sacramento Central Labor Council. County Supervisor Roger Dickinson, who was a major player in the push for a sales tax increase two years ago, also supports the measure.

If passed, the measure would start in 2011 and raise $4.8 milion annually. It would expire in 10 years unless extended by the voters.

A clause in the proposal would prevent the city from using the new money to supplant existing local funds for youth programs and services. Low-income property owners could qualify to be exempted from the tax.

Programs preparing youth to achieve in school and the workforce include after school programs and increasing employment, job training, and internship opportunities.

“I think that the act is a good thing because it would create lots of opportunities for youth and help make the community stronger,” said James Saephanh, a Hiram Johnson High School Junior. “In Sacramento, it’s hard to get a job because the economy is bad and there is competition. Older folks have more experience and will get the job over me because they have more experience.”

Newly generated funds from the act would go toward creating new programs for youth and also boost spending on existing programs.

“Current student attendance centers in Sacramento have proven to reduce truancy and crime,” said Alicia Ross, Executive Director at Sacramento ACT. “[These programs] currently have federal funding but we want to make sure that they are sustained by long term local funding.”

Funds could also go toward supporting the use of street outreach workers. “The Safe Community Partnership strategy uses street outreach workers to connect to young people, giving them the option to change their lives and take advantage of job training and social services to help get their lives back on track,” said Ross.

All funds would be administered by the City of Sacramento Office of Youth Development. The office’s current budget is $300,000, before other forms of funding such as grants, said Ross.

“The money raised [by the act] would allow the office to develop more comprehensive strategies,” said Ross.

A minimum of 40 percent of the funding would go towards youth jobs and work force readiness, a minimum of 20 percent toward improving academic achievement, and a minimum of 20 percent toward reconnecting youth involved with gang activity and other at-risk youth to the workforce and community, the proposal says.

Bob Blymer, executive director of the Sacramento County Taxpayers League, said he would oppose the measure.

“As a homeowner, I would be opposed to the tax because there are too many taxes already,” Blmyer said. “I propose to go in the other direction — to cut down on spending that is going on. The state spends over their budget and the county is doing the same thing. They aren’t able to provide services for the taxes already collected.”

An 11-member Citizens Advisory Board would be created and be responsible for reviewing proposals and making funding recommendations to the City Council on how to spend the tax money. The Advisory Board would include a range of community representatives, among them two youth, a community representative, law enforcement, a parent, someone from the faith community, a business owner, youth service provider, and educator.

A Sierra Health Foundation public opinion poll conducted in June 2009 showed that 70% of voters supported paying a $29 parcel tax.

In order for the measure to be put on the November 2010 ballot, 30,000 signatures have to be gathered by May.

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