Williams approves assessment hike for lighting and landscaping district

The Williams City Council adopted a resolution initiating assessment proceedings, declaring its intent to levy assessments for the Landscape and Lighting Assessment District (LLAD) No. 97-1 during last month’s meeting. The assessment increase the council voted to approve last week, however, was for less than half of what was initially proposed.

Last month, Councilmember Kent Boes questioned why the San Francisco/Bay Area Consumer Price Index (CPI), was used as the basis for revising assessments for Landscape and Lighting District No. 97.  The CPI for Williams would be markedly lower than that of the Bay Area, he said.

Boes asked whether the city could use the lower statewide CPI in determining the assessment revision instead.

At that time, City Finance Director Rex Greenbaum said that the San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose CPI was the one designated in the engineer’s report when it was completed, and changing it would require a new engineer’s report. That would come at a greater cost to the city.

After doing some background research with City Attorney Ann Siprelle, however, they determined that wasn’t the case.

The engineer’s report specifically called for the per parcel assessment rate to be adjusted by the percentage change in the CPI for the State of California, as reported for the last day of that annual period by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The problem, Siprelle said, is that the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not have a CPI for the state as a whole.

Siprelle said this offered the city some leeway, and on Wednesday Greenbaum brought adjustments based on two different CPIs before the council. The council ultimately voted unanimously to approve an assessment increase based on the CPI for West Urban, which includes California.

The CPI change for West Urban was less than half of that of the SF/Bay Area at 1.17 percent. Homeowners within the LLAD will pay an additional $2.00 in assessments, for a total of $173.38 annually.

Prior to the vote, Don Parsons, a Williams resident living within the LLAD, commented that he was not on board with any increased assessment.

“This should not be raised at all until the proper lighting can get done and taken care of. When you call PG&E, and there is no action done, there is no priority to get lights fixed… We’re paying for a service that’s not being rendered. It’s uncalled for… The landscaping isn’t getting done, also. The park’s a disaster down there.”

Boes, also a resident of the subdivision, said he agreed with Parsons.

“Even when the lights are working, it’s still dark out there,” Boes said.

Kennedy asked everyone to keep in mind that the city calls PG&E to ask for repairs to those lights.

“That money we’re collecting for the lighting and landscaping district is not going to PG&E. It’s going to staff at Public Works to maintain the parks…” Kennedy said.

Boes asked Greenbaum whether the city was in a position to shoulder an additional $1,148 for a year, and Greenbaum said that it was possible, but that the city would already be dipping into the general fund to fund the LLAD.

“My thinking is, considering what we’re going to ask the citizens to do next month, we should probably cut them a little break,” Boes explained, referring to the proposed rate increases to water and sewer fees scheduled for a public hearing in September.

Siprelle said that it would not be legally impermissible, and the city could open itself up to a lawsuit from someone who took issue with their use of general fund money to supplement the LLAD. The engineer’s report requires the council to increase assessments annually, according to CPI, Siprelle said.

Boes stood by his recommendation but indicated that if the rest of the council disagreed, he would recommend going with the lower CPI.

While council member Santos Jauregui said he would like to see improvements made to the parks, if the council moved forward with the rate adjustment. Kennedy said that improvements would come out of the Parks and Recreation Fund. The LLAD is strictly for maintenance.

Council Divided on Potential citywide assessment

Should Williams residents be assessed for facilities they don’t use? Should they be able to use facilities they aren’t assessed for?

These were some of the questions that the Williams City Council discussed at length after the rate hike was approved.

On one side of the discussion was Councilmember Kent Boes, who considers the LLAD assessment to be unfair to the residents of the Valley Ranch subdivision. The parks are paid for by the residents within the LLAD, but the benefits of those parks, Boes argued, can be enjoyed are enjoyed all of the residents of Williams.

Boes, who has been vocal about the issue at previous meetings, had previously pointed out that parks on the west side of Williams are maintained using general fund money. As such, residents in the LLAD are paying a share of the maintenance costs of parks on the west side, while shouldering the entirety of maintenance costs for parks on the east side.

The council pondered the fairness of current and potential assessment fees during the final agenda item of the meeting on August 17.

The conversation was sparked when City Attorney Ann Siprelle brought some tax and assessment and funding options for the maintenance of public improvements, including parks, trees, and roads. The council had requested the item be placed on a future agenda during their June 29 meeting.

The conversation tied back to the  LLAD, as the funds from the assessments are put toward two of those very causes.

Siprelle presented the council with some options for funding public projects, including a general tax, a special tax, or a special assessment. Siprelle said that a citywide assessment district, after Proposition 218, would probably not be defensible.

“The engineer’s report that you have to do for an assessment district has to calculate now how much benefit each parcel gets,” Siprelle said. “ You could do it if it were a neighborhood park, that benefited a number of houses, you could calculate how much frontage each yard has in the park… but doing it city-wide, it won’t stand up to challenge.”

Boes and Bergson, however, weren’t convinced. Both thought that a defensible formula could be established city-wide.

“So everyone doesn’t have equal access to the park?” Boes asked. “Are we saying that only frontage homes are the only ones with access to the park and that they’re the only ones who are going to use the park?”

“I agree with you… I think the formula is not an issue,” Bergson said. “We can come up with a formula.”

Siprelle said that if a defensible formula could be developed, the city council would have to send out a mail ballot, which can be done at any time. Votes are weighted according to how much each property owner would pay. Of those people who send in their ballots, more than half of the weighted votes in the city would need to be in favor of forming the assessment district.

Troughton argued that for an assessment to make a difference, it would have to be for an amount that was overly burdensome to the citizens of Williams. Boes brought up the LLAD on the east side of town and said that if there was a city-wide assessment, it would give those district residents break on their current assessment.

“If we did this, I would push to make the LLAD go away. If we set (a city-wide) assessment at $160 per parcel… I just doubled our revenue and lowered the assessments on that side of town,” Boes said.

Kennedy said to keep in mind that while residents in the LLAD would be getting a small break, the entire west side of Williams would be faced with a large, new assessment.

“With the 50 percent of people that are going to reduce it by $15 or $20, the people on the other side of town are going to have an increase of $160,” Kennedy said, adding that he would strongly encourage the council to consider a sales tax increase instead, which would put the bulk of the tax burden on non-residents.

Boes said he agreed with Kennedy’s approach of putting the least burden on Williams residents, but the funds raised from a general sales tax could be spent elsewhere by a future council, as they see fit. While the current council may have every intention of putting those funds toward public facility and park improvements, that may not be the case with the next group of city leaders, he explained. Even with an advisory measure, Boes noted, those funds would not be tied to a particular purpose.

“We would have to do a special tax, and a special tax is not going to pass,” Boes said. “It’s just not going to happen.”

Troughton made it clear that, whether it was an assessment or a sales tax increase, he was having none of it.

“I’m gonna tell ya, this is one vote you won’t get an assessment,” he said. “We have to get back to a situation where we’re not asking for money all the time. This can get out of hand like nothing you’ve ever seen.”

Troughton said he was against a system that would unfairly assess someone for a service they would never use.

“We have to quit that mentality and quit saying that the city, or any entity, should assess people that don’t use the facility. If you do that, and you have 5,300 people in town, and 300 use the facility, you have 5,000 that are not… who are paying for it.”

Jauregui agreed with Troughton, saying that someone who doesn’t use a facility shouldn’t be forced to pay for it.

Ultimately, at the advice of Kennedy, the council sent the issue back to the city’s finance committee. Kennedy said it would be brought back before the council at a later date. <

Brian Pearson is the Managing Editor & Reporter for the Williams Pioneer Review. Brian joined the Williams Pioneer Review in June 2016 and is committed to bringing hyperlocal news to its readers. A few of his projects include reporting on local government and the newly feature sports page. To contact Brian about this article, or for future articles, please email him at brian@colusacountynews.net