SACRAMENTO – The Sacramento Taxpayers Association (STA) applauds a ruling by Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Christopher Krueger that invalidates a 2014 property assessment levied by the Carmichael Recreation and Park District, paving the way for approximately $1.3 million in refunds to working families and businesses within the district.
The action by the court negates the assessment on the grounds of numerous violations of Prop. 218, designed to protect taxpayers by limiting the methods by which local governments can create or increase taxes, fees and charges without taxpayer consent.
“We’re pleased that the court ruled in favor of the hardworking taxpayers of Carmichael,” said STA President Katy Grimes. “Judge Krueger’s decision is a significant victory for business owners and residents within the district. We’re pro-parks, but want to see improvements conducted in a thoughtful, deliberative fashion, in accordance with the law.”
“The trial court’s ruling is a clear victory for taxpayers. Proposition 218, enacted by the voters of California in 1996, was intended to address exactly the type of abuses committed by the Carmichael Park District ,” said Jon Coupal, President of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and principal drafter of Proposition 218. “We applaud the tenacity of local taxpayers and homeowners for bringing this legal action and forcing compliance with those provisions of the California Constitution adopted to protect their interests.”
Violations, as outlined by Judge Krueger in his May 19, 2016 decision, included the District’s failure to assess properties based on actual special benefits the properties were to receive from the proposed improvements. Specifically, all residential property owners were assessed the same amount even though many were located miles from the vast majority of the planned projects and stood to gain little benefit from them. Judge Krueger also struck down the District’s attempt to fund security patrols as in violation of the 1972 Landscape and Lighting Act. The ruling stops the District from continuing to levy assessments in the future unless and until a new assessment is approved by voters.
Another significant issue strongly raised by STA during the pre voting period was the lack of full and transparent disclosure. The district’s election campaign materials failed to adequately disclose the true financial assessments to be levied on small business properties, apartments and other commercial entities. “Many such properties were annually taxed in excess of $1000.00. Yet the district and their campaign consultants both marketed and promoted these tax assessment based on a lower per residence amount. The voters and taxpayers deserve all the facts presented in an honest and straightforward manner,” said Grimes. Homeowners were taxed a flat $44.87, regardless of assessed property valuation.
The lawsuit was originally filed by lead attorney Eric Benink of Krause Kalfayan Benink & Slavens, LLP on behalf of STA following the May 2014 assessment that passed by just a 1.1 percent margin.
In his final ruling (below), Judge Krueger wrote that “the court finds that the District violated Proposition 218 and at least one provision of the Landscaping and lighting Act when it imposed the assessment at issue. The court thus grants the petition and related requests for relief.”
Specific details of, and the process for, refunds have yet to be determined by the County.
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