City streetlight assessment price increase leaves residents irked, confused

Some Santa Clarita property owners have about a month to vote on a measure that could leave them paying 560 percent more than what they already owe in streetlight maintenance costs, according to a letter mailed by the city.

The letters, sent to more than 33,000 homes across the entire city, were sent out in late November. Since that time, the city has received scores of responses via email and phone, according to city Special Districts Manager Kevin Tonoian.

This would only affect homes that currently pay the subsidized assessment rate of $12.38 due to Prop. 218, the Right to Vote on Taxes Act.

“For the past 20 years, your streetlight maintenance assessment has remained $12.38 (annually),” the letter reads. That would change to $81.71 a year, an increase of $1.03 to $6.81 a month, should those who received the letter vote in support.

Attached with a self-addressed envelope, those who received the letter would have to mark the ballot “yes” to indicate support maintaining streetlight services in one’s neighborhood, while a “no” vote would indicate opposition to the increase.

Ballots have to be returned by Jan. 22.

After reading the letter, resident James P. de Bree is among several others wondering, “Why are we suddenly faced with such a large increase?”

Tonoian said it comes down to state law.

“The city, per state law, does not have the right to increase the rate gradually,” he said. “The only way the city has the ability to change an assessment rate is through the ballot process.”

In 1996, California voters approved Prop. 218, which ensures “that all taxes and most charges on property owners are subject to voter approval,” according to the state Legislative Analyst’s Office.

Properties paying the lower rate have been frozen at $12.38 since 1998. Those paying the $81.71 assessment rate “are subjected to a cost of living escalation equal to the annual change in the Consumer Price Index.”  

This means that if the majority votes “no,” then the annual rate of $12.38 would remain unchanged for those with that charge.

This isn’t the first time the city has sent out such notices, albeit this proposed increase is the largest amount sent out at a time, said Communications Manager Carrie Lujan. She said about 25,000 parcels are already at the $81.71 rate, with the city modifying rates from $12.38 to the higher amount 98 times in the past.

“Those paying $12.38 need to get up to the full cost,” she said. “This creates proportional rates and brings city compliance to state law.”

If it fails to pass, “we would have to re-evaluate but something would have to be done,” said Lujan.

All interested in expressing opinions on the proposed new assessments and modifications could attend a public hearing scheduled 6 p.m. Jan. 22 at City Hall.

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