In this post, CivicMic continues to share information about the steps municipalities must take to levy assessments on the County secured property tax bills. As hinted by the title of this post, public hearings are a big part of it. In this post, we will specifically discuss public hearings for California special assessments aka assessment districts.
It is important to note that since 1996, the formation of an assessment district must be approved by the affected property owners through a Proposition 218 balloting procedure. In other words, a municipality can’t form an assessment district without property owner approval. The formation proceedings require a public hearing in addition to resolutions by the legislative body, an assessment engineer’s report, a notice, and ballots. The formation proceedings are more extensive than the annual proceedings necessary for municipalities to continue the levying of assessments.
So, let’s take a moment. There are extensive initial proceedings, including a public hearing, to establish an annual assessment levy on property. The annual proceedings to continue the levy are not as extensive but also include a public hearing. The assessments are initially approved through a ballot procedure but a ballot procedure is not required annually thereafter to continue the assessments as long as the levy amounts do not exceed the provisions of the initially approved rate and formula.
So, what exactly are the annual procedures, and what about these public hearings? The annual procedures are prescribed by each individual assessment Act. Meaning, not all assessments are the same. Nevertheless, nearly all assessments have public hearings. For example, on June 18, 2019, the City Council of the City of Oxnard will conduct three public hearings for various types of assessments. Public hearings are an important part of the process as it allows the public to speak to the legislative body about the assessments. It is a great opportunity for the public to comment on the maintenance level of service as most assessments pay for the maintenance of public improvements such as landscaping, lighting, parks, and roads.
It also a great opportunity to familiarize yourself with the annual report that describes the geographical area within the assessment district, the list of public improvements, the annual budget, the formula for the calculation of the levies including provisions for the application of an inflation index, and the amount being levied on each property. The annual report is included in the Agenda packet for the public hearing. It is a large document written in legally and administratively required terms, but here are the sections to focus on:
- Engineer’s Letter – Typically found at the beginning of the report. It provides the total amount being levied.
- Plans and Specifications
- A description of the geographical boundaries of the District. Is your property inside or outside? Should your property be levied?
- A description of the improvements and services. These descriptions tend to be verbose and in general terms, so you should ask agency staff for a visual representation of the improvements (e.g., grass, plants, or trees) and specific location (where and on what side of the street). The improvements could be next to other improvements funded from other sources and maintained at different levels of service.
- The estimate of Costs – This is the budget for the fiscal year and it generally contains the following:
- Direct expenses – Is the work being performed by contractors or agency staff? If by contractors, how often are the contracts re-bid to ensure the lowest competent bid?
- Utilities – Pay close attention to water expenses. Should the landscaping be replaced with drought-tolerant plants? How much would that cost? What is the payback?
- Indirect/Overhead/Administrative costs
- Method of Assessment – How are the levies calculated? Is an inflation index being applied?
- Assessment Roll – This the list of parcels being levied and amount. Note, the list is typically by county assessor’s parcel number (“APN”). Do you know your APN? If not, you can normally get it from most County assessor’s website – Google “lookup property” and the county name to get the APN by entering the street address.
If the information above seems daunting…don’t despair. CivicMic will continue to expand on concepts and provide helpful tips along the way. Email us your questions, keep visiting CivicMic and you will be a pro by next year’s public hearings. In the meantime, please use the “Share this:” buttons below to share this post with your neighbors and bookmark our website for future reference.
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