With 2019 underway, my third yearly cycle of writing weekly columns for the Gazette begins anew. While it does make me feel fortunate to have the ability to share my opinions with you, I value even more providing a public service by including details of issues facing our community.
An example has been the dissemination of information related to the Lighting and Landscaping ballot issue. Over the past three weeks, my columns spoke to the issue, first in general terms, then making the public aware of city council’s actions starting in May of 2017; the second detailed when the street light purchase was first approved, and finally a narrative of how the two streetlight districts were founded and funded, all in order to understand why the assessments are different in Streetlight District 1 and District 2. Many Santa Clarita residents have written letters, sent emails and called city hall objecting to the streetlight assessment increase, as well as the ballot process currently used.
With Mayor Marsha McLean and City Manager Ken Striplin realizing how strong the opposition is, swift action has been taken. Staff included an Agenda Item on the January 8 City Council Meeting Consent Calendar, with a recommendation for the council to cancel the current Landscaping and Streetlight District ballot and public hearing. Even though I am writing this on Sunday afternoon, I am confident the vote will be unanimous to cancel the election.
I wholeheartedly support cancellation of this current assessment ballot initiative. In this Sunday’s Signal, Mayor Pro-Tem Cameron Smyth is quoted as saying, “We need to do a better job of communicating this … If we have to spend additional dollars to send a follow-up mailer … Something that is easy for a non-technical person to understand so they know exactly what they’re voting on, I think that is money well spent.”
While I also agree with Cameron’s comments, I believe the city needs to take a hard look at how Santa Clarita’s Assessment Districts are being managed and make changes as needed.
Within the 2018/19 Landscaping and Lighting District Engineers Report, you will find technical details and financial information relating to two Streetlight Zones (Districts) and Sixty-plus Landscaping Zones (Districts). Throughout the past several years, staff has looked to combine this data in one common Engineers Report, making their effort less cumbersome and eliminating duplication of boilerplate information.
But, having the information in one document DOES NOT MAKE THEM A SINGLE PROPOSITION 218 ASSESSMENT DISTRICT. Each zone (district) has unique special benefits, which only apply to the properties within their zone. To maintain the spirit and letter of Proposition 218, financial management and voting for changes to each Zone (District), must be handled separately.
To show why, consider the fact that it may have sounded like (District 2) Levy A at $12.38 per EDU was not paying their fair share. But District 2 was originally established by the county and is funded by a combination of Ad-Valorem property tax and the Levy A assessment. Currently, the total Levy A revenue will raise $3.3 million per year. Levy B, on the other hand, at $81.71 per EDU, will raise $2.6 million per year. Without changing the assessments, the combined Streetlight Districts will raise $5.9 million this coming year and will pay Operation and Maintenance costs of $4.8 million.
There is plenty of money being raised, and if we have the desire to balance out the assessments, questions relative to what the District 2 Ad-Valorem contribution of $2.8 million can be used for must be clearly understood. Acting hastily and losing the $2.8 million Ad Valorem contribution would simply be a tax increase, with the deficit made up by District 2 (Levy A) residents. As government finances are never simple, we need to consider these changes very carefully and stay informed.
Hopefully the city will provide a “follow-up mailer … something that is easy for a non-technical person to understand so they know exactly what they’re voting on” in the future.
The New Year also kicks off another round of Canyon Country Advisory Committee Meetings, where community members are invited to attend and hear information on local issues. This month presentations will include, the latest news on “Bridge to Home” and efforts to open a Year-Round Homeless Shelter presented by Mike Foley, Reported Contamination Found in Val Verde Drinking Water presented by Gavin Tate, New IRS Tax Return Rules presented by Rick Drew, and Landscaping and Streetlight Issue Details presented by Alan Ferdman.
The Canyon Country Advisory Committee meets on January 16, from 7 to 9 p.m., in the Mint Canyon Moose Banquet Room, 18000 Sierra Highway in Canyon Country. Admission is open to all residents and there is no admission fee. I hope you will choose to join us there.