Let me see if I’ve got this straight.
Some of the same taxpayers in Weston Ranch that want to use $4 million in Mello Roos taxes to put in artificial turf at the Weston Ranch High stadium as well as an all-weather track are threatening to sue the Manteca Unified school board about how the district has spent Mello Roos taxes in the past.
At the same time they’ve essentially threatened the school board if they don’t do their bidding that they will form a committee to “educate voters” on just how bad they are as board members. Freely translated, they were telling the board if you don’t do what we want you to do we’re coming after you in the next election.
It sounds like the perfect script for the political version of the Twilight Zone.
Last things first: The issue is with Weston Ranch Mello Roos taxes paid only by those with property in Weston Ranch. The district now elects all seven trustees by district. So basically the threat is to educate Weston Ranch voters about their trustee, Sam Fant, if he doesn’t do their bidding or, if you prefer, “the right thing.”
Fant for the record was the guy who championed stadium improvements using Mello Roos money. He has also aligned himself with those that want to end Weston Ranch Mello Roos taxes which isn’t necessarily the same players that want $20 million or so in Mello Roos taxes refunded.
Theoretically voters elsewhere in the district don’t have skin in the game unless, of course, the board “rolls” and immediately acts upon the demand of Weston Ranch residents to refund $20 million or so they contend were used on projects not authorized by the enabling language of the Weston Ranch Mello Roos formation documents.
The board critics could be right but we’re a long way from reaching such a point. Getting there will require a lot of attorneys that won’t come cheap for either side. It should be noted attorneys have different viewpoints which is why they are paid to argue cases. Judges, of course, are a different story. They don’t have opinions. They issue rulings.
At some point down the road either the Mello Roos protestors will be proved right, they will be proved wrong or land somewhere in between.
That said it’s a little too early to threaten burning any school board members at the stake unless, of course, protest leader Dale Fritchen wants to be burned as well.
As Fritchen was honest enough to point out, he was on the board when some of those Mello Roos expenditures that he now questions were made. It would be a cheap shot to say Fritchen should have been questioning big expenditures with tax dollars back then because it is likely some attorney somewhere who earns in a minute what a playground supervisor makes in an hour told the board it was OK. It’s the same argument school board members today could use.
There was also a different cast of characters at the district office calling the shots when it came to finding founding sources for facility construction.
That doesn’t absolve the current administration of any responsibility in the matter. But it should be noted they checked with their attorneys that specializes in Mello Roos taxes and they said everything is OK. The attorneys that the Weston Ranch group contacted with background in such tax matters say it’s not.
Now for the funny part: If you read the Mello Roos language for Weston Ranch as a layperson you could see the point of the Weston Ranch group. But in order to do so you’d also have to question the legal validity of spending $4 million in Mello Roos taxes on the Weston Ranch High stadium. Yet the school district’s attorney said it was OK.
The prudent thing here would be for the board to decree that until the dust up over the Mello Roos in Weston Ranch is settled that it will not touch any money from that source for new projects such as the stadium.
Fritchen gave them the reason they should do that. Voters elsewhere — read that outside of Weston Ranch — would be more than angry if two years from now a judge rules that the $20 million worth pf projects that the protestors say are not proper use of Mello Roos funds as well as the $4 million earmarked for the stadium has to be paid back.
Based on property tax assessments, 90 percent plus of the district’s tax base is outside of Weston Ranch. Any repayment plan would mean taxpayers in Manteca, Lathrop, and rural arears that have children or neighborhood kids that attend other high schools will have to pay 90 percent of the bill for a want at Weston Ranch High while their neighborhood schools will go without such improvements.
Fritchen is right. The board should not invite the wrath of voters and taxpayers. Until the dust up is settled, they must not spend another dime of Weston Ranch Mello Roos taxes that could ultimately encumber taxpayers throughout the district to refund Weston Ranch property owners who will have full benefit of what those tax dollars will buy but could ultimately get them at 10 cents on the dollar.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.