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4 School Districts Rescind $50 Property Fee for Upkeep

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Expressing defeat and disillusionment, officials from four Orange County school districts Tuesday night rescinded a $50 property fee that would have raised money for schools.

By a 5-0 vote, the joint authority representing the Huntington Beach Union High, Huntington Beach City, Ocean View and Westminster school districts nullified its unanimous decision of two weeks ago to levy the fee. Authority members cited potentially high costs of lawsuits and the constant phone calls they had received from furious constituents.

Under the plan, property owners would have been assessed $50 a year for each parcel. The fees would have would have raised $4.3 million annually for the upkeep of school property. As part of the motion, the five-member authority, established in June expressly to form an assessment district, also agreed to disband.

Chairwoman Karen O’Bric, a trustee of the Huntington Beach City School District, adjourned the meeting by saying that children in the four school districts will end up being the “real losers.”

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The key to the abrupt reversal was a promise from a group of local real estate interests to help raise money for the schools.

Tuesday night’s action was a turning point in Orange County, where property fees have been considered a sure way to boost sagging budgets without the referendums necessary to raise property taxes under Proposition 13. Faced with shouts of “Recall!” from angry constituents and threats of lawsuits by anti-tax groups such as the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., school board members are increasingly such assessments as political poison.

Only two districts in Orange County--Orange Unified and Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified--now levy fees for school maintenance. Last week, Orange Unified, the first district in the county to enact the fees, was sued by property owners and the Jarvis group. A citizens group has announced that it will try to recall board members who approved the fee.

“It’s really a sad commentary to have people sue school districts for the $2.50 a month that would go for playing fields,” said Dale Scott, a financial consultant for Orange Unified. “There is that intense amount of pressure from a small group of very vocal opponents.”

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Last week, trustees of the Fullerton Joint Union High School District canceled their public hearing and dismissed the idea of a fee after the district received more than 900 angry calls and letters.

Anti-tax groups will continue to pursue districts that have the fees, said Joel Fox, president of the Los Angeles-based Jarvis group.


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