KEYES — A streetlight district will retain mistakenly overcharged fees until after a do-over election.
People and businesses paying double fees this year would get a credit if the next try at raising rates is successful. If it fails, ratepayers would get refunds, said an attorney for the Keyes Community Services District.
"I've advised them to keep the money where it is" until the upcoming election is decided, said Modesto attorney Mike McGrew after Tuesday's district board meeting.
Board members also have heeded his advice not to talk publicly about botching this year's bills to 1,191 landowners and businesses, charging $20 per parcel instead of $10.
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The independent district thought a June 2008 election had succeeded because 55.31 percent of voters agreed to double rates, with a bump to $25 in three years, and the district billed at the higher rate in January. But Measure P required two-thirds approval, or 66.67 percent, and the error was not detected until June.
"The process was not properly implemented," McGrew said Tuesday. He then suggested trying another election and the board directed his office to recommend a course of action at a future meeting.
McGrew filled in Tuesday for the district's regular attorney, Daniel Schroeder, who had a medical emergency, McGrew said. He has substituted in the three board meetings since the mistake was discovered and advised board members, who are paid $100 per month, to say nothing.
"As soon as we know what we're going to do, we need to let the county know because they're hounding us," board member Casey Chadwick said during the meeting. "Especially with this stupid newspaper, we need to let people know we're doing something about it so we get them off our backs."
Options for the future election include asking landowners instead of voters, which could lower the threshold for success to a simple majority, or 50 percent of votes plus one.
McGrew said he doubts the district can beat deadlines for the November ballot. Rules might allow a special all-mail election, he said; he had not researched cost estimates.
"If it doesn't pass," McGrew told board members, "it indicates that citizens don't care about lighting." The district then would keep as many streetlights on as much as possible, but many would go dark, he said.
The district in January should have tried to collect $11,910, but billed more than $23,800. Ratepayers returned $19,340, with half, or $9,670, collected in error.
The board members meet monthly to discuss water and sewer services in addition to street lighting.
The next Keyes Community Services District board meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Aug. 25 at the district office, 5601 Seventh St., Keyes.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2390.