Some homeowners in Merced will see lower fees next year because of shrinking city maintenance bills after a vote this week by the City Council.
Eleven of the 39 maintenance districts in town have high reserves, which was brought to light by Councilman Michael Belluomini last year. So the council decided Tuesday to reduce the fees over the next five years in those neighborhoods that have more in reserves than it would cost to maintain the district for a year.
The plan to cut back on fees passed with a 4-2 vote. Councilmen Tony Dossetti and Josh Pedrozo voted no, saying the city should hold on to more than a year’s worth of reserves. Councilman Kevin Blake was absent.
Maintenance fees pay for the upkeep of landscaping, lighting and other shared utilities in neighborhoods. It remains unclear how many homeowners will see lower fees.
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Stan Murdock, director of public works, said the districts must be fully assessed before he knows the savings to homeowners in those neighborhoods. “More than likely, they will all see some kind of reduction,” he said.
The city holds reserves for unforeseen maintenance needs such as replacing irrigation systems or brick walls damaged by vehicles.
Pedrozo said he would have been more comfortable with at least two years worth of reserves. He said he wanted to avoid cutting fees too much and then having to raise them in coming years.
City staff assessed the savings in one district as an example. The Sunset West district, which is southwest of Bear Creek Drive near the Santa Fe Railroad tracks, could see a reduction of up to 34 percent over five years. If that assessment stays true, homeowners’ fees there would drop from $46.84 to $30.91 a year.
Belluomini first directed attention to the bloated reserves during a council meeting last year. “Some of these extremes – where there was seven, eight, nine, even 10 years worth of operating cost in the reserve – those are the ones I was after,” he said this week.
Homeowners pay their maintenance fees when they pay their property tax to Merced County, usually in January and April. City staff members said they’ll know later this year which districts will reduce fees.
The lowered fees would go into effect next year.
The districts likely to see a savings pepper the city. Other types of districts in the city will not see fee reductions under the new policy, because their annual fees are calculated through a different process.
The council considered writing rebate checks in the districts with high reserves, but City Attorney Randolph Hom said that would not be allowed under case law.
The 11 districts with high reserves:
Village West Storm Drainage, Sunset West, Glenhaven Park Storm Drainage, Deer Park Storm Drainage, Quail Run Storm Drainage, Las Brisas, Ronnie Storm Drainage, Davenport Ranch, Sequoia Hill, Skymoss and Vista Del Sol.