Special taxes are decided by registered voters and require a two-thirds majority for approval. There are several types of special taxes, but parcel taxes on individual properties are the most common for stormwater services. Parcel taxes are levied against real property and can be flat fees, or aligned with acreage, building size, impervious surface cover, or land uses. Unlike fees, enacted taxes do not need a direct connection between the amount of the tax and the service received. As such, tax mechanisms can exempt certain types of property (e.g., public property) or owners (e.g., seniors or low income), which can be popular with voters.
Examples of parcel taxes that have been successfully implemented for stormwater services are in the cities of Culver City, Los Angeles, Santa Cruz, and Santa Monica:
Other types of special taxes include sales, business license, vehicle license, utility users, and transit occupancy taxes. These types can be implemented as a general (not special) tax, requiring only a simple 50% majority for passage. But to qualify as a general tax, the tax must be pledged only for an agency’s general fund with no strings attached. Without providing a dedicated funding stream, stormwater services may compete with other general funded services such as police, fire, and parks. Although a general tax requires only a simple majority, voters tend to show better support for special taxes where the purpose of the tax is explicitly identified.