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Placentia-Yorba Linda Trustees Rescind Fee : Education: Orange Unified remains as the only school district to retain the controversial charge on maintaining facilities that are used by the public.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District rescinded a $17-a-year maintenance fee on Friday, becoming the fifth district this week to drop the controversial fee because of mounting opposition and the threat of legal challenges.

The board’s unanimous decision leaves the Orange Unified School District as the only one in the county that will be charging property owners for the maintenance costs of facilities such as tennis courts, baseball diamonds and soccer fields that are open to the public.

Placentia-Yorba Linda trustees, while defending the fee as proper and badly needed in the face of a budget crunch, acknowledged that the charge was imposed at a poor time.

“I still believe it was the correct stance,” said Trustee Karin Freeman. “It was our opportunity to have money collected locally and remain locally. We’ve suffered so much this year and we cannot withstand further losses. . . . I thought our children in our local community were worth more than $17 a year.”

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Bitterness over the fee remains, and some residents vowed to recall the trustees who voted for the measure. Several residents among a crowd of 70 chided and heckled trustees who supported the fee in a 3-2 vote on July 23.

“The people on my telephone say that they are extremely dismayed by a school board that disregards the democratic process,” said Placentia resident Betty Mead.

“We’ve had enough of this,” added resident Pat Simmons. “We want you to listen to us.”

At one point, board president Judy Miner threatened to call the police to bring the meeting to order.

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School officials said that they could impose the fee under the Landscape and Lighting Act of 1972, which allows government agencies to form assessment districts to pay the cost of certain publicly used facilities.

Opponents argued that the fee was a way to generate new revenue without the referendums necessary to raise property taxes under Proposition 13. Others argued that they already were being hit hard by the recession and new state taxes.

Trustees called for a special meeting after several board members expressed concerns that possible legal challenges and changes in state law would end up freezing revenue from the fees.

Such worries prompted a joint authority representing the Huntington Beach Union, Huntington Beach City, Ocean View and Westminster school districts to vote earlier this week to rescind a $50-a-year maintenance assessment fee.

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Last week, property owners and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. filed suit against the Orange Unified School District, the first in the county to enact such fees. The lawsuit charges that the fee circumvents the spirit of Proposition 13 because it was imposed without voter approval.

Placentia-Yorba Linda school officials said their assessment district would have raised about $900,000 to offset the cost of maintaining facilities used by the public during after-school hours.

Some trustees predicted that it will be all the more difficult to find ways to raise money to make up for nearly $9 million in cuts in the district’s 1991-92 budget.

“Will people want to provide for their children in some other way?” Miner said in a statement. “Transportation fees? An education foundation? Bingo? Will the level of volunteerism increase in an already ‘over-busy’ society?”

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Miner added that she still didn’t believe that the majority of district residents opposed the fee. The assessment still could be placed before the voters, but school officials say that they have no immediate plans to do so.

Orange Unified’s trustees, who narrowly approved a $30-per-year fee in June by a 4-3 margin, are vacationing and were not available for comment.

“The fact that Placentia has withdrawn is a surprise to our district, and it does leave us carrying the flag,” said Joyce Capelle, the district’s director of fiscal services, upon learning of Friday’s decision. “It remains to be seen what effect, if any, this will have on the board’s decision.”

The board is expected to discuss its assessment fee at its next meeting on Thursday, said Capelle, who is serving as acting superintendent for vacationing Norman C. Guith.

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Nonetheless, Capelle acknowledged that the pressure to overturn the measure is mounting in the face of the lawsuit, other districts backing away from the fees and state schools Supt. Bill Honig saying that maintenance assessments should be approved only by popular vote.

“It will probably give everybody a tough weekend,” she said.

John Penner contributed to this story.


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