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General Benefits vs. Specific Benefits
October 5, 2022
The El Dorado Hills Community Services District (District) is responsible for more than 20 active Landscape and Lighting Assessment Districts (LLAD). The best way for a resident to learn more about LLADs is to watch the District’s short video that explains them in more detail. However, many of our residents are very familiar with LLADs, as it is through them that we’ve been able to deliver some very high quality parks, recreation facilities, landscape corridors, and neighborhood entrances.
The District relies on the County to apply the assessments to property taxes which fund the LLADs. Last year (2021) the County Auditor, Joe Harn, unexpectedly required a written letter to additionally attest as to the accuracy of the files the District submits for these LLADs. Without enough time to research the matter, the District partially complied in providing that letter. This year (2022), the District was again confronted by this requirement from the Auditor. However, it has become increasingly apparent that this requirement of the County Auditor is not based in any law or fact. Rather it is about his office being bothered by questions from the public; a basis in conjecture of a slipshod civil grand jury report about LLADs, and; his concern for the District charging a lessor assessment than the maximum permitted by resolution of the District Board of Directors.
The previous statement is supported by the County Auditor’s letters to the District (provided here), and it leaves the District with an understanding that the Auditor’s Office does not want any members of the public to contact his office and make inquiries; it will make determinations upon unsupported and unlawful information and it wants members of assessment districts to be charged more, even if the amount should be less because more contributors were assessed at the time of final tax transactions. A cursory review of the Auditor’s interactions with the County Grand Jury, vis-à-vis his own historical response letters to reports & findings, begs the question: why does he now rest part of his case on a grand jury report? Additionally, Auditor Harn has had his turn as the subject of a Grand Jury report titled, Putting Political Gain Above What’s Right for the County (see here). To add insult to injury, the Auditor has stated that the District could submit the attestation and that he’d then file a supplementary tax bill to property owners…for a fee amounting to nearly $60,000 to the District, aka: the taxpaying community of EDH.
What does all of this mean for those areas maintained by these affected Assessment Districts? For now, the District is continuing to maintain the LLADs funded areas just as was planned for this fiscal year, with the expectation that the County Auditor will choose to perform the duties of his office; that any other County official power will step in to do what is right, or; that a lawful judge requires the assessments to be implemented at no extra cost. The intended goal is for the Assessment District members to only be charged the amount(s) budgeted and for the work performed. The funding the Auditor has arbitrarily chosen to not assess amounts to $1,382,697. Without adequate funding, there will be detriments to all areas maintained by the LLADs, there will be a shift toward blight, and future public safety issues.
Sadly, the District has sought to resolve this without avail and is now required to take action in the form of seeking legal remedies to compel the El Dorado County Auditor, Joe Harn, to do what is right, as he has provided zero lawful or factual basis in his decision making. Please read through the District’s recent letter to the County and the Letters from the Auditor on this matter. You may ask, “Why not just supply the written letter the Auditor wants?” The simple answer is the attestation has already been provided by the hired consultant of the District – in part, that is why we have a third party consultant perform this work. In the end, should there be errors, the District has proven it will own its actions and correct those situations even if it means issuing refunds.
This whole debacle might remind you of the stories of a bully on the playground. They – the bully – will continue to bully and escalate their aggressions unless someone stops them in their tracks. Which, sometimes this requires an assertive response. In this instance, we’re not calling anyone a bully per se, however, there appears to be a need to bring an assertive response to arbitrary and capricious actions taken by an elected County Official.
More Background Information:
- District Demand Letter to County Auditor, Joe Harn
- Letter from County Auditor - Justifying His Decision to Not Apply Assessments
- County Auditor Harn's Response to CSD Demand Letter
The goal of Assessment Districts is to provide funds for maintenance, repair, and replacement of identified assets; including providing services, utilities and capital improvements associated with landscape medians, corridors, entrances, and parks. The work is anticipated to specifically enhance the environment and economic value of those properties located with the assessment district. The District’s responsibilities include the maintenance and repair of all improvements provided by the assessment districts, with services including, but not limited to: buildings, park facilities, landscapes, irrigation systems, lighting, fences, walls and signs. Mowing, pruning, blowing, and weed abatement is currently contracted to private firm(s).
Click here to watch our short video about LLADs!
One of the things that makes El Dorado Hills such a great place to live is our well-maintained parks and landscaping. But who is in charge of the beautification and upkeep of these parks and landscaping? And who is responsible for paying towards their maintenance? We will answer those questions and more, in this short video on El Dorado Hills Community Services District's Landscape and Lighting Assessment Districts (LLADs).
The assessments districts are funded through assessments levied on parcels, the general benefit that is provided by the District General Fund, and from any interest income. The assessments levied directly benefit the real properties assessed. The District is in compliance with all laws and regulations, including Proposition 218, with respect to the assessments levied through the assessment district. The assessment revenue is billed and collected by El Dorado County in December and April of each year.
Resolution 2022-14 - Approving Preliminary Engineers Reports Declaring Its Intention to Continue FY2022-23 Annual Assessments (6/9/2022)
Proposition 218 requires agencies levying a benefit assessment to separate the general benefits from the special benefits to ensure that property owners subject to the benefit assessment are not paying for general benefits. An assessment can fund special benefits but cannot fund general benefits. The general benefits for the assessments have been explicitly calculated and quantified and excluded from the assessments as described in the engineer’s report. The assessments have been apportioned to each property based on proportional special benefit received by each property. The General Fund is contributing to the budget of each LLAD to cover any general benefits.
Source of Authority
The El Dorado Hills Community Services District is authorized as a local agency pursuant to the Streets and Highways Code of the State of California, commonly known as the Landscape and Lighting Act of 1972, to create assessment districts.
Shell LLAD Information
The El Dorado Hills Community Services District ("EDHCSD") has formed a number of Landscape and Lighting Assessment Districts ("Districts") in order to provide maintenance and fund the maintenance of improvements within the Districts, which are yet to be activated. The Districts were formed pursuant to the Landscape and Lighting Act of 1972, Part 2 of Division 15 of the California Streets and Highways Code (the "Act") and are "grandfathered" according to the provisions of Proposition 218. At such time as improvements have been installed and are ready for maintenance, the individual Districts will be activated, and an annual assessment will be levied to cover the costs of maintenance. The following Districts are considered Shell Districts:
- Lake Forest Zone C;
- Lake Hills;
- Lake Ridge;
- Serrano; and
- Southern Areas.
The EDHCSD has also formed a number of Shell Districts pursuant to Proposition 218 which are yet to be activated. The following Districts will be activated, and an annual assessment will be levied to cover the costs of maintenance when the District takes over maintenance of installed improvements:
- Euer Ranch;
- Villadoro; and
- Saratoga Estates.
Underfunded LLAD Information
There are several underfunded assessment districts that do not have an annual assessment inflationary factor or are funded at a greater amount by the General Fund.
The District began the engagement process in January, 2018, hosting a meeting for the owners of El Dorado Hills who pay into four District managed Landscape Lighting Assessment Districts (LLAD's), specifically those formed without an annual inflationary factor (Bass Lake A, Green Valley Hills, La Cresta, Oakridge).
In response to questions received during the January meeting, the District held individual meetings in late 2019/early 2020 with each of the four (4) LLADs without an inflationary factor and are in an underfunded status. Since those meetings, the District has updated its Cost Allocation and Asset Reserve Studies, and are re-engaging owners to finalize addressing the condition of their LLAD.
The owners of each of the four underfunded LLAD areas were engaged in the following process
- May 3, 2021 – Letters were mailed to each property owner within the four LLADs to finalize addressing the condition of their LLAD and notifying owners of an upcoming vote by mail ballot to either approve or disapprove of amending the formation documents to update services costs and implement an annual escalator.
- A public hearing was held on July 15, 2021 to receive public comment, count and report the ballot results, and to approve or deny the Amended Assessment rates and/or the inclusion of an escalation factor for the Landscape Lighting Assessment District’s effective Fiscal Year 2021-2022. A summary of the results from the mail in ballots can be found here.
At the public hearing that was held of July 15, 2021 a no vote was received from all four LLADs to increase the maximum assessment. This no vote will affect the District’s ability to perform the necessary maintenance and replacement of assets included in the LLADs. Adjustments to the routine maintenance schedule and replacement of assets will be necessary to keep the LLADs operating with a balanced budget. Bass Lake A was the only LLAD to approve the one-time annual assessment increase, raising the $99 per parcel assessment to $287.67, which will assist in providing the necessary funds for the District to perform the current management of the LLAD.