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2006 vote also being looked at for potential savings

By Jim Shilander

Residents of Talega received good news Wednesday, as the Capistrano Unified School District Board reversed an August vote and refunded approximately $17 million from a refinancing of the area’s Mello-Roos community finance district to taxpayers between 2014 and 2033.

Previously, the board voted to keep the funds for at least one year, citing facilities needs at San Clemente High School. In the months after, Talega residents, angered by the decision, organized and asked for a rehearing. It was granted last month. This time, the board voted 6-0 to return the funds. Board president John Alpay, a Talega resident, had to recuse himself due to ownership of property in the CFD.

Resident Laura Ferguson told the board Wednesday the process had been frustrating, but, in some ways, fruitful.

“It opened our eyes to the complexity of Mello-Roos,” Ferguson said. While she and other residents understood the desire to stay up on facility needs, she said district decisions elsewhere should have led leaders to return the money in the first place.

“The law is our compass and we must follow it,” Ferguson said.

Talega parent and tax attorney Susie Hattan said Talega residents were not aware of the initial vote at the time it was taken.

“That was a lesson to be more involved,” Hattan said.

The initial vote taken sparked negative feelings amongst taxpayers, she said, but she hoped the board’s ultimate decision would represent a start to the healing process.

San Clemente Mayor Tim Brown urged the board to return the money. He said he understood that elected officials were seemingly dealing with “an infinite amount of needs and desires” with finite financial resources. Brown said returning money to taxpayers, however, should be the decision every time it was possible.

“Talega’s an amazing place where thousands of children magically seem to be in the streets,” Brown said. “Most of those families have students in the district. They also feel they’ve met their obligations and could use those savings elsewhere for their children’s education.”

Talega residents might also be in line for a further windfall.

During research on the CFD, residents discovered a 2006 refinancing they said should have reduced their tax burden by $4.7 million in interest. District staff indicated the refinancing also shortened the length of the bond as well as its overall size. Staff said it was unclear if Talega residents were owed additional monies.

Superintendent Joseph Farley said he hoped to provide another refund, because it had already been passed by the board. It didn’t require a second vote, he said.

Farley said he met with residents earlier this week to discuss the issue, but said staff needed to be sure about the resolution before the funds were sent back.

Hattan disagreed.

“The resolution speaks for itself,” Hattan said. “There’s no need to be digging into intent.”

Talega resident Marc Veale said the board had to consider that the district likely over-collected every year, by as much as $10 million, in the years since the refinancing. He urged the district to do a better job of being transparent with their financial documents.

Alpay, who was able to be seated for the discussion of the 2006 refinancing becasue no action was being taken, said he and other residents of Talega had “additional monies taken out of our pocket” for seven years. This included the 2008 recession, when it might have come in handy.

Fellow board member Ellen Addonizio said, to her, the language of the 2006 resolution was clear that the money needed to be given back immediately.

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comments (1)

  • I am embarrassed by the lack of character displayed by our money grabbing elected officials. Board president John Alpay was eager to escape the vote and recused himself so as not to receive any backlash from the union who propped him up through his ‘say anything to get elected’ election campaign. John Alpay is the only one who should have voted because he is the only one living in Talega to be a voice for Talega residents.

    I was dumbfounded by the comments of Amy Hanacek at previous board meetings where she justified taking money that didn’t belong to the board by saying over and over, “IT IS FOR THE CHILDREN!” As if to say “we can take what isn’t ours as long as we say that it is for the children.” Meanwhile well over 80% of all district money goes to pay personnel rather than going “for the children.”
    Board member Lyn Hatton wanted to keep the money so badly that in previous board meetings she claimed she didn’t know enough in order to vote to return the money. That’s funny, she knew enough about it to vote to keep our money, but not enough about it to return it.

    Ellen Addonizio and Jim Reardon really stepped up to the plate to do the honorable thing! They spoke boldly and with certainty that the money be returned.

    I was in a small conference of about 7 or 8 people who superintendent Farley asked to meet with to asses our position. I was busy and didn’t want to attend, but I did because I kept hearing the words “Dr. Farley wants to meet to negotiation.” For me there is no negotiating! I told him we are not here to negotiate. We are not here to let the board do half the right thing, or display half courage, or half character, or give us half of our money back. The board either needs to do the right thing, or defend our fight when we come after them.

    We gained one victory Wednesday night when they finally voted to return our $17 million. We have at least 2 more battles to fight on this heated topic. There is a 2006 refinance that was uncovered where millions of dollars was to be returned to Talega residents by the previous board, but was never returned…then forgotten about. That matter was supposed to be voted on at the Wednesday meeting, but somehow became an “item of discussion” rather than one to be voted on.

    Another major issue is that the board votes to raise our Mello Roos by the maximum 2% every year, when we have already met our obligations. I already pay $10,000 a year in Mello Roos (that doesn’t even include my regular property tax). Raising my Mello Roos 2% per year means it will go up over $1,000 every 5 years. I wouldn’t mind paying the increase if there were still obligations to be fulfilled. Talega has already met its obligations, stop using us as a piggy bank!

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