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Santiago Hills Assessment District

7/28/14

Santiago Hills Assessment District (District)

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

For a map click here

The purpose of this page is to provide the homeowners in the Santiago Hills Assessment District information on the background as well as current conditions in the District and answer questions that have been posed recently to the City.

Q. What is the Assessment District, how many properties are in the District and why does the City maintain it?

A. Landscape Maintenance Assessment District 86-2, Santiago Hills (District) was established in 1987 to maintain the common area landscape improvements constructed by Assessment District 86-1 which created the residential development. The District is comprised of single-family, multi-family, and mixed use properties. Each property, or parcel, is assessed based on an established calculation of benefit derived from the common landscape area. The assessment for a single-family parcel is $369.44, multi-family is $221.67 and mixed-use parcels are $4,063.84. The total assessment collected for all parcels in the District generates $533,281.33 per year.

The reason the City maintains the landscapes and related appurtenances within the District is that when the District was created, the development agreement did not include the creation of a Master Home Owner’s Association (HOA) that could have funded and managed the improvements through fees they would assess the property owners like many other developments. Therefore, the District was established to levy assessments on the properties that benefit from the common area improvements within the District and to fund the ongoing maintenance and management of these improvements.

Q. What are the funds collected used for?

A. The funds collected through the levies of assessments on each property are used to maintain, repair, replace and pay for:

· Landscape turf, shrubs, ground cover and trees

· Irrigation infrastructure

· Concrete walkways and stairs and railing in the common areas

· Lighting along the walks and paths

· Electrical infrastructure

· Utility Costs (Water and Electricity)

Funds to maintain the District are budgeted based on the cost of ongoing maintenance and anticipated costs of repairs and utility costs. The breakdown of how the funding is allocated in the current budget is as follows:

Salaries - 4.8%

Water - 5.6%

Electricity - 3.5%

Landscape Maint. - 46.3%

Tree Trimming - 7.3%

Electrical Maint. & Repair - 2.4%

Misc Contractual Services - 1.9%

Misc Costs - 0.3%

General & Admin. Allocation - 7.9%

TOTAL 100%

Q. What was the 2007 ballot vote – why was it needed and what was the outcome?

A. In 2007, a vote of the property owners was conducted to raise the amount of the assessment. The need for the vote was based on the fact that assessment revenues were no longer enough to fund the maintenance of the District improvements due to the continued increasing costs of utilities, and maintenance and repair services. The majority of the property owners voted not to increase the assessment and therefore the assessment has remained at the maximum originally allowed regardless of the costs to maintain the District.

Q. What were the measures proposed and taken since the “no” vote?

A. Leading up to the 2007 vote, the City identified reductions in services that would occur if a “No” vote was returned by the property owners. Since a “No” vote was returned, the reductions that were enacted included:

1. A reduction of man-power in the landscape services contract from 7 men to 5 men from 2007 to 2010. This reduction resulted in:

a. More time required to complete maintenance cycles that includes mowing operations, ground cover/shrub trimming and the removal of weeds.

b. Longer response times to correct landscape problems as they occur at the District.

c. The frequency of trash and leaf litter removal in the landscaping being reduced.

d. Limited funding available for replacement of plant material.

2. The two-year tree pruning cycle was extended to a three-year pruning program.

In 2010, a new landscape maintenance contract went into effect eliminating minimum man-power requirements. The contract is now based purely on performance and on the extended frequencies for trimming and irrigation repairs.

Q. If service levels were reduced after 2007, why is it just recently that we have noticed a significant impact to the landscape in the District?

A. Since 2007, reductions in service have been made incrementally and reserve funds have been used in an effort to mitigate the impact of the funding shortfall. However, the significant rise in the cost of water since 2007 (33%), coupled with the increasing cost of services to maintain an aging infrastructure (repair and replacement of electrical systems, etc), resulted in a need for further service reductions.

In 2013, further reductions were made as costs continued to rise. These reductions included:

1. Reduction of water use.

2. Elimination of fertilizer, turf aerification, herbicides, & other commodities normally applied to the landscape.

3. Elimination of the replacement of dead or missing plants and trees.

In 2014, during a winter that provided little rain, when we would normally use very little irrigation water, the landscape still required irrigation. This led to an additional use of resources not typically expended during winter months. Because of this, irrigation use has been drastically reduced leading into summer and beyond. This has resulted in a stressed landscape and the loss of more turf and shrubs. In addition, in 2014 several major repairs to the electrical infrastructure of the District needed to be made as well. These increased expenditures all have to come out of the same fixed amount of money received every year by the assessments levied in the District.

Q. Why does the landscape appear not to be getting watered enough?

A. The amount of water being delivered to the landscape through the irrigation system has been reduced significantly due to an effort to reduce overall costs that are exceeding revenues within the District.

Q. Why are plants dying in some areas and not others?

A. Some plant material has died as a result of significant reductions to watering of the landscape. Though the reductions of water have been consistent throughout the District, all areas are do not share the same conditions, whether it is differences in terrain, plant type, age of the plants, sun exposure, or other conditions. Varying conditions may result in some areas showing more signs of stress than others. Efforts are being made daily to adjust and balance the delivery of water to avoid plant loss whenever possible.

Plans were also just approved by the City Council to install a weather based irrigation system that will also help us manage the irrigation in the District more efficiently. The installation of this system is anticipated to begin in late summer or early fall and be completed by late fall.

Q. Will the missing plants be replaced?

A. No, as stated in 2007, unless the residents voted to increase the assessment, the funding would not be and currently is not available to replace plant material.

Q. Why are the plants and trees not trimmed as frequently as they used to be?

A. Shrub and tree trimming frequencies were reduced after 2007 when revenues from property assessments were no longer enough to sustain the level of services provided prior to 2007.

Q. Why weren’t the property owners made aware of the reductions in service?

A. The property owners were advised prior to the 2007 vote that if a NO vote for an increase in the assessments was returned, that services would be reduced. An explanation of the types of service reductions was presented to property owners in several public meetings leading up to the vote and provided in mailers.

Q. I pay a lot of taxes and I don’t see other areas of the City’s landscapes suffering like our neighborhood. Why is that?

A. The funding to maintain the Santiago Hills Assessment District comes solely from the revenue generated by the assessment of each parcel of land in the District. This was a system that the developer of the Santiago Hills Community chose rather than establishing an HOA to maintain the common areas. In other neighborhoods and subdivisions in the city, the common landscape areas are maintained by HOA’s which are supported by association fees paid by the homeowners. City General Fund revenues are not used in those locations just as they are not used in the District area. Unfortunately, there is no master HOA in the District to assume the maintenance responsibilities.

Q. Why have the assessments of properties in the District not been increased?

A. Proposition 218, which was passed into law in 1996, requires that any increase in assessments be voted on by the property owners in the District. In 2007, the property owners in the District were asked to vote on an assessment increase. The property owners in the District voted NO, rejecting the increased assessment.

Q. Are there plans to conduct another Ballot Vote to increase the assessment we pay?

A. Yes, currently we have engaged a consultant to evaluate the District revenues and expenses and provide us with a recommendation for a benchmark for an increased assessment that will allow us to both bring the landscape back to standard conditions, and maintain the District for the next 10 years.

Once we have that information we will be conducting a series of community information and outreach meetings and activities in the winter of 2014/15 to inform the residents of the District of the proposed new assessment.

Another Ballot Vote will be scheduled for the spring of 2015. If again the residents vote “No” on that ballot, drastic reductions will continue in this area.

Q. How can I help?

A. Prior to launching the community outreach effort, we will be looking for residents of the District to help canvas the neighborhoods to educate your neighbors on the need to vote “Yes” on the 2015 ballot. If you are interested in assisting in this effort, please email Dana Robertson at drobertson@cityoforange.org

If you have any further questions please email Dana Robertson at drobertson@cityoforange.org
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