Laura Ferguson, San Clemente

As Capistrano Unified School District Superintendent Kirsten Vital and her senior staff contemplate the meaning of “refurbishment” and “modernization,” Talega Residents for Fair Taxation encourage her to listen to public testimony from taxpayers, who spent nearly an entire year fighting for fair and equitable treatment after discovering our Mello-Roos taxes were being mismanaged.

Talega’s pursuit for fair taxation of its Community Facilities Districts 90-2 and IA 2002-1 provides an excellent case study for Vital as she reviews the language of 11 other CFD formation agreements and considers the “authorized” legal use of millions in over-collected Mello-Roos taxes by the district.

It is important to not lose sight of the law which stipulates that Mello-Roos taxes are to be spent on “specific” and not “general” purposes.

Also, in addition to public testimony, CUSD has obtained at least two legal opinions regarding how the CFD funds can be spent. It would be a better use of the superintendent’s time to comply with those legal opinions instead of, yet again, trying to finagle ways to spend the funds in a way that was not intended when they were formed.

Talega residents will keep a close eye on how our $9.6 million in over-collected taxes—now in the district’s coffers—will be spent. And as we urged in January, we hope to see life-to-date facilities funding accounting of how our taxes are being used (CA Govt. Sect. 53343.1).

We trust the district will be mindful of the law and does not stretch “refurbishment” and “modernization” to cover deferred maintenance, since the law does not authorize the use of Mello-Roos taxes for this purpose (for CFDs formed before Jan. 1, 2014).

A significant amount of the $822 million in costs identified for district-wide facilities needs are deferred maintenance that CFD special taxes cannot be used for anyhow. The General Fund is where the district would obtain funding for maintenance projects—or as noted in last week’s SC Times article, “Finding a Foundation in Community,” a bond paid for by the entire community should the district seek voter approval of such a funding mechanism.

Regarding high school attendance, all Mello Roos taxpayers have priority to attend schools that their CFD funded. Talega has priority under CA Govt. Code Sect. 53312.7 to attend San Juan Hills High School because its CFD provided $17.4 million in partial funding to purchase the land and construct this high school. It also funded $10.3 million for San Clemente High School with two-thirds of this spent inappropriately and disproportionately by the district.

The law specifically states: “students residing in a community facilities district shall have priority to the extent provided by law for attendance at schools financed in whole or in part by the community facilities district … the degree of priority must reflect the proportion of each school’s financing provided through the CFD.”

Talegans will continue to urge the school board to cease the policy of excessively over-collecting taxes labeled “pay as you go” to imply that the money is available to spend on unidentified projects or unauthorized maintenance projects; and, cease the policy of annually increasing Talega’s special taxes by 2 percent when the CFD account has a surplus, which we were pleased to see them do at their August meeting for the very first time.

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