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Kensington Vote June 7 Could Affect Police, Other Services

At least here the voters decide. The ballot measure would raise the spending limit for the Kensington Police Protection and Community Services District.

I was surprised last week when an absentee ballot showed up in the mail.

I always vote by mail since I never seem to be around on Election Day, and it just makes the whole process more convenient.

I say that, knowing the voting booth where I cast my ballot is usually about 200 yards from my front door. But there are times when I’m out of town, and if you do not send back the absentee ballot, you have to request one again, for the next election. Like I said, it’s just easier.

I was even more surprised when I opened the envelope and discovered there was only one question to be decided: Kensington’s appropriations limit.

While raising the "appropriations limit" may sound like a bureaucratic formality, it has a real-world impact. It's necessary to maintain the current level of Kensington police staffing, according to district directors in their ballot argument for the measure.

I’m sure I’ve voted on this in the past. In fact, the explanation said I had voted on it twice in my 10 years of residency. Many of you will also have voted on the issue  in 1984, 1986, 1990,1994, 1998, 2002, and 2006. 

Astute readers will recognize the roughly quadrennial nature of the process.

This is among the few times when the appropriations limit was the singular issue for citizen participation, so I called Charles Toombs, who heads the (KPPCSD) board and asked for a few more details.

Mr. Toombs, an attorney and tax specialist by trade, was kind enough to point out that the vote is required by state law, which requires communities to decide what they can appropriate and spend.

I liken it to the debt-limit debate Congress is wrestling with, only in this case, as Mr. Toombs pointed out, “at least it’s the voters who get to decide.” It's not a debt limit, of course, because the district is not incurring any debt, but it's still a limit.

As the ballot explanation points out, the appropriation is not a vote to increase taxes, but is just a requirement that allows the district to spend the tax money that has been collected. Only a majority vote is required to approve the measure.

Mr. Toombs pointed out that the board had hoped that the measure would appear along with the tax-continuation initiatives that Governor Jerry Brown had been trying to get the state legislature to approve, but when that effort failed, we were left with just a single issue to be decided.

It also means the town will have to foot the $5,000-to-$10,000 bill for the special election.

If the appropriations limit is not approved, the district will have to go back to the 1986-87 level, which could really put a crimp in police services. Toombs says he's not sure what the 1986-87 figure would be, but the ramifications would be significant.

The appropriations level is always a bit above the actual expenditure level but it’s based on what was spent in the last fiscal year. This year’s ballot question asks for a limit of $3,305,662, while the district collects just under $2.5 million in taxes and supplemental taxes, and fees make up a considerable portion of the difference.

An appropriations level vote must be taken every four years, but the supplemental tax increase that was approved as Measure G took its place in 2010.

The law also allows annual increases to account for changes in the cost of living, population changes, program transfers and funding transfers. It will be four years until we vote on the appropriations limit again.

The KPPCSD obviously wants the measure to be approved. There’s not even any opposition listed in the voter information pamphlet. I’ve already mailed in my vote and I hope you will either mail in your ballot or take the time to vote on June 7.

By the way, this year's ballot only requires one first-class stamp. Since it's under an ounce, the envelope is considered a standard size.

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