City of Modesto officials say Village I property owners should be allowed to vote on whether they still want a swimming pool built at Enochs High School, paid for with extra property taxes.
Modesto City Schools officials said Tuesday they're willing to discuss an all-mail special election.
If the school district agrees to let the public vote, a lawsuit may be avoided over how more than $54 million in Village I school fees and taxes have been spent.
Owners of Village I homes pay about $390 in Mello-Roos taxes each year for school facilities in northeast Modesto. Homeowners there are locked into 23 years of extra taxes.
There's an ongoing dispute about whether Modesto City Schools and the Sylvan Union School District violated a 1994 taxing agreement that was supposed to limit Village I's tax burden.
An independent legal review last year concluded that Village I homeowners have paid millions too much.
School officials dispute that, and want to spend more of Village I's taxes to help build a $3.5 million swimming pool at Enochs High.
Modesto city officials want the school districts to stop spending Village I's money and instead start paying off the campus construction debts they've accumulated.
Sylvan's school board members have agreed to that, but Modesto trustees continue to plan construction of the Enochs pool.
"The schools entered into an agreement they didn't abide by," Modesto Councilman Dave Cogdill Jr. said Tuesday. "As a party to that agreement, the city of Modesto is just trying to represent our constituents in Village I to make sure their interests are protected."
Cogdill's council district includes Village I and the rest of northeast Modesto.
Last week, Cogdill, Mayor Garrad Marsh, City Manager Greg Nyhoff and City Attorney Susana Alcala Wood met privately with Modesto City Schools Superintendent Pam Able, three trustees and several additional administrators.
The city proposed splitting the estimated $15,000 cost of a special election, which could be held early next year.
Cogdill said the city wants school leaders to abide by voters' decision, and he said the city would do the same.
If a majority favors the pool, the estimated $3.1 million in tax money that has been collected and set aside would be used for construction, as the district wants.
If the vote is "no," then the money reserved for the pool could be added to future Mello-Roos taxes to pay down the debt school officials have incurred.
Paying down debt could reduce the number of years Village I property owners have to pay extra taxes, or it could reduce how much they must pay each year.
Speaking on behalf of Modesto City Schools, board member Rubén Villalobos said Tuesday that the election proposal was something the board needed time to consider. "We're going to take it to our whole board to discuss," he said.
When that discussion will happen hasn't been announced, and it might end up taking place behind closed doors. If school officials consider the election proposal part of the city of Modesto's threat to sue, then the discussion could be kept private.
For previous coverage of the Village I Mello-Roos taxing dispute, go online to www.modbee.com/villageI.
Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2196.