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STA v. County of Sacramento

RE: STA v. County of Sacramento, et al.

Sacramento Superior Court Case No. 34-2014-80001869
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 a 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 districts’ 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, Judge Krueger wrote that “the court finds that the District violatedProposition 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.
We thought the case was over following the ruling.
But in the mail residents received the Carmichael Park Fall/Winter 2016 Activity Guide. On Page 3, a very carefully-worded story with the headline “Assessment lawsuit update” and refund information.
The story and “presentation” within this activity guide couldn’t make it more difficult for property owners to secure their refunds.
First, they place the onus squarely on the property owner to “apply” for a refund by having to either pick up an application or download the form from the park district web site.
Secondly, note third paragraph, second sentence:
“Applicants are encouraged to mail a completed refund application with required supporting documents by November 29, 2016, as directed on the form.”
“Applicants must submit copies of property tax bills for each fiscal year they wish to claim a refund. Applicants must show proof of dates of ownership if you did not own the property for the entire fiscal year.”
They are requiring proof? CRPD required each property owner to sign their ballot. They know where we live and what businesses we own, yet they’re requiring this?
STA attorney Eric Benink addressed this immediately with a letter to the County’s attorney over concerns that the claim form requires property owners to submit copies of their property tax bills. Benink challenged why this is necessary because the claim form requires the identity of the APN and the claim forms are submitted under penalty of perjury. And the County and Park District certainly have the payment information. Benink said he could find no requirement that claimants must provide copies of property tax bills, and reminded that this process should not be unduly burdensome, nor limit rightful property tax refunds to property owners.
We will keep taxpayers notified. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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