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Orange Trustees to Put Property Fee Issue to Vote : Schools: Board members say the decision represents a compromise between supporters and opponents of the $30 tax.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Trustees from the Orange Unified School District, divided over whether to repeal a property fee to help pay for school maintenance, struck a compromise Thursday by agreeing to put the issue before voters.

After a closed-door debate, board members voted unanimously to overturn the $30 annual property assessment and to place the proposal on the November, 1992, ballot.

Orange Unified, which on June 28 became the first school district in Orange County to impose such a fee, is the only one to ask voters whether to enact it. Five other Orange County districts which tried to levy the fees all repealed them outright under public pressure.

After the vote, Orange trustees said the decision represents a compromise between backers and opponents of the fee. The deal arose after Trustee Lila Beavans, who had joined the 4-3 majority in originally approving the fee, told colleagues she was switching her vote.

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“As the weeks passed, it became very clear to me that the community felt very strongly that they needed to have a say on new taxes,” Beavans said afterward.

Board President Alan E. Irish, a staunch supporter of the fee, also agreed to rescind it if the matter was put before voters.

“By taking this out to the public, and providing adequate time to inform the public about this, I figured it met the needs of the situation,” Irish said.

But Trustee Barry P. Resnick, who has opposed the property fee throughout the controversy, assailed the compromise as “grandstanding” by other board members.

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“I’m really sorry this turned into a political issue,” Resnick said. “It should have been rescinded and done with.” Residents and local politicians who have rallied in opposition to the levy welcomed the board’s decision.

“I think this is what most people wanted all along, to be able to say yea or nay to this,” Orange resident Doug Ginesi said. “I’m surprised they took this long and waited for other districts to act.”

The so-called maintenance assessment districts were formed under an obscure 1972 state law, the Landscaping and Lighting Act of 1972. School districts throughout the state this year have considered or adopted property levies, hoping to raise as much as millions of dollars a year without voter approval. The money would pay for school recreational facilities such as tennis courts and ball fields used for community activities not related to schools.

Orange County emerged as the battleground between anti-tax crusaders and advocates for increased school funding, with 10 school districts considering the issue.

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Every school board that has proposed the property fee has attracted large, angry crowds of protesters who denounced the assessment as unconstitutional and threatened recalls against trustees.

As resistance mounted, board members from the Buena Park School District and two Fullerton school districts rejected proposals to enact school assessments on properties, and the La Habra City School District tabled the issue.


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