The news seemed good on the surface for Weston Ranch residents that are fed up with what they believe has been the turning of their property taxes into a “makeshift slush fund” of sorts to help fund other projects in the school distrct.
On Tuesday the Manteca Unified Board of Education heard from Superintendent Jason Messer that the district is looking into putting a sunset clause on the Mello-Roos taxes that homeowners in the South Stockton community have been paying since 1989. It is one of the things that former trustee and Weston Ranch resident Dale Fritchen has called for in his petition to qualify the matter for a November Proposition 218 election that will give residents the chance to take some of the control back over where their money goes.
But Messer’s plan for using the money that’s currently sitting in CFD 1 – the community facilities district that serves Weston Ranch – to pay off additional loans that were taken out against the initial bonds that were used in part to pay for the district’s new administrative complex drew the ire of Fritchen and earned a few strong statements about what he’s prepared to do in order to make sure that doesn’t happen.
“That’s our money – that’s not your money – and if we have to pursue a referendum to make sure that you don’t touch that money, that’s exactly what we’re going to do,” Fritchen said. “We’ll do anything that we need to do in order to stop that.”
Originally designed as a way to provide funding mechanisms to school districts after California voters approved Proposition 13 – which severely limited the rate at which property taxes can rise in the Golden State – the inclusion of CFDs in school financing has become a critical issue for growing communities that need the additional base in order to cover the cost of construction.
With the State of California cutting back on the amount of money being distributed to school districts, Messer said in his remarks to the board during a study session on CFDs on Tuesday that they’re a critical part of modern funding and one of three necessary pillars that allows the cost of education and the overhead that goes with it to be evenly spread amongst all of its key sources.
But when the district looked into using those Mello-Roos funds to resurface the football field and track at Weston Ranch High School to alleviate a gopher problem that had become a safety hazard, Fritchen began digging through documents to see what he could find that would show it wasn’t a legal use of the money.
What he found surprised even him.
While some of the expenditures were approved by him while he was on the board, Fritchen noted that he found that millions of dollars were raided from the Weston Ranch coffers to pay for other projects throughout the district – a move that may have been legal at the time that then-Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Michael Dodge came up with it, but Fritchen says certainly wasn’t fair to those who have been charged the maximum amount of money allowed by law for years under the guise that they would be supporting their own community.
Manteca Unified currently has a team of financial experts who handle the CFDs and the necessary paperwork and maintenance that go along with them – including somebody who works as the liaison between the district and the County of San Joaquin who assess, collects and distributes the money.
The district may still end up moving forward with that stadium overhaul after all.
It’ll take the board deciding to officially end the CFD to allow them the opportunity to add a new project to the list. The possibility of sending the matter out to voters for their approval hasn’t been ruled out.
To contact reporter Jason Campbell email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 209.249.3544.