HomeThe MunicipalityMunicipal Austerity

Municipal Austerity

In 1978, California’s initiative Proposition 13 transformed how local governments are funded and governed. Property tax revenue, one of the chief funding sources for local government and schools, was suddenly reduced statewide by 60 per cent. Proposition 13 also abolished local control over the ad-valorem property tax. 

Just one month before the 1978 election, the Hercules City Council by a one-vote margin had reduced its property tax rate due to a build-up of surplus funds. Because Proposition 13 did not specify how rates were to be reduced, the Legislature implemented a new tax allocation formula that made permanent the reduced Hercules rate.  The result was a large, permanent reduction in property tax revenue available to the City. 

The consequences for the City of this dramatic loss of revenue and local control were profound. From 1978 to 2010 the City was forced to rely on reserves and redevelopment to fund its operating and capital costs. Large reserves were drawn down, and redevelopment was abolished in 2011. This condition of increasing financial austerity led to the wrongful actions by certain City officials that nearly bankrupted the City in 2011. 

While the City’s financial situation was rescued and has since improved, the municipality remains one of the State’s most financially precarious. Municipal capacity for general operations and capital replacement remains weak. Property tax revenues are almost negligable. Other revenue sources, such as from utility and sales taxes, are volatile and insufficient. Current generations of citizens have become accustomed to a reduced quantity and quality of core city services and the gradual decay of its capital infrastructure. 

  • 203 2009-Jul-30 Septic Tank Excavation  IMG_8951.JPG

    Excavation of Septic Tank

    Excavation and demolition of a large steel tank discovered during relocation of City wastewater main line. The tank appears to closely match a set of 1904 blueprint plans for a septic tank in Alameda.