Mello-Roos fees for Village I, Empire areas are set to be discussed by school boards

September 8, 2010 

BA Empire Mello Roos 1

(BART AH YOU/ - Glick Middle School in Empire....Empire property owners have been paying Mello Roos tax for the last twenty plus year totaling about 45 million dollars. Is the money being spent properly?

Two Modesto school agencies will discuss Mello-Roos property taxes this week, in response to community concerns about how much in extra taxes have been collected and how the money has been spent.

The governing body that oversees special school taxes for homes in Modesto's Village I neighborhood will meet at 6 p.m. today. The Schools Infrastructure Financing Agency meets in the Sylvan Union School District boardroom at 605 Sylvan Ave.

The Empire Union School District, which oversees the Mello-Roos district covering southeast Modesto, will meet at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at 116 N. McClure Road, Modesto.

Mello-Roos taxes controlled by those agencies require certain homeowners to pay additional property taxes for public school facilities. Most Village I homeowners must pay an extra $390.30 per year; many homes in the Empire school district are charged an extra $449.91 per year.

Now that school enrollments are declining and property values have plummeted, taxpayers have started questioning how those additional taxes are spent.

At last month's SIFA meeting, board members voted to keep Village I's Mello-Roos taxes at last year's level. It was the first time in 15 years board members did not raise tax rates.

Empire's board members, however, did not freeze Mello-Roos taxes for their district. Mello-Roos taxes there have risen 22 years in a row. At their meeting last month, Empire's trustees allowed the automatic increase to continue.

Both the SIFA and Empire boards are scheduled to discuss Mello-Roos taxes, but no specific action items are on their agendas.

Since last month's SIFA meeting about Village I's special taxes, school boards for the Sylvan Union School District and Modesto City Schools have publicly discussed the need for additional Mello-Roos taxes.

What to do?

Sylvan trustees voted to eliminate plans to build another elementary school in Village I. That will save at least $14 million in extra Mello-Roos taxes.

Modesto City Schools' trustees, however, have not decided whether to charge Village I homeowners additional taxes to add facilities at Enochs High School.

More than $101.4 million already has been spent building Enochs High, which opened in 2006, but some trustees are considering adding a football stadium and swimming pool. Village I homeowners could be required to pay extra taxes for those facilities.

However, questions have been raised about whether Village I residents already have paid their fair share for new schools. Before the Mello-Roos district was formed, builders were assured Village I school taxes would be capped at $52.7 million and that those taxes would be reduced if state school construction funds were received.

How much to tax Village I?

School officials, however, contend legal wording allowed them to increase Village I's tax burden to $103.5 million because of inflation and higher construction costs. They also contend school districts had the right to use state construction funds in addition to, rather than in place of, Mello-Roos taxes.

The Building Industry Association of Central California has requested a comprehensive review of how Mello-Roos funds were spent.

Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at or 578-2196.

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