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Orange Unified to Reconsider $30 Levy Today

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The threat of what could be a costly lawsuit has forced trustees of the Orange Unified School District to reconsider imposing a $30-a-year property levy.

An emergency meeting had been called for Wednesday night to consider the matter, but it was canceled for lack of a quorum. The trustees are scheduled to consider it tonight during their regular meeting, which begins at 7:15 p.m.

When it narrowly approved assessment fees on June 28, the school district became the first in the county to charge property owners fees for the upkeep of school grounds. Other school districts followed its example. But tax protests quickly pressured those other school boards to either rescind the fees or drop the idea.

Should Orange decide to rescind the levy, the impact will be felt statewide, where other school districts have approved such assessments.

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“This is extremely important,” said Joel Fox, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., based in Los Angeles. “This is a domino effect. It says that school districts bit off more than they can chew. They thought it was easy to raise money by going around the taxpayers. They have found that it’s not so.”

The Howard Jarvis group filed suit against the school district July 31, asking the courts to determine whether such assessment fees are legal under the provisions of Proposition 13, the initiative to cut property taxes, approved by voters in 1978. The law requires that special taxes must be approved by two-thirds of the voters.

Since last week, five school districts have rescinded their maintenance assessment fees, increasing the pressure on the Orange board to do likewise.

In an emotional meeting Aug. 6, a joint authority representing the Huntington Beach Union High, Huntington Beach City, Ocean View and Westminster school districts voted 5 to 0 to drop a $50 property fee that would have gone for maintaining school campuses. The representatives said that legal challenges were among the chief reasons for their about-face. Three days later, the Placentia-Yorba Linda School District board of trustees also abandoned the idea for their district.

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“I can’t see how those things cannot be taken into consideration,” said Orange Unified Trustee Nancy Moore, one of the three board members who voted against the property fee in June, said of the legal challenges. “It has to play a major role in regard to our position. Whenever you talk about lawsuits, it’s very difficult to continue down the same path with as much confidence as you had in the past.”

Orange Trustee Barry P. Resnick, who also cast a dissenting vote, said he is confident that when the board reconsiders the fee, it will drop the idea.

But board President Alan E. Irish said that regardless of the mounting pressure for him to do so, he will not change his vote in favor of the fee, saying that his district’s budget crisis is too severe.

“Al Irish hasn’t changed his mind,” he said of himself Wednesday. “We have a $55-million deferred-maintenance problem, and that has not been fully addressed because of improper funding from the state of California the last 10 years, while our facilities are beginning to age.”

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