One district in Merced will need votes to get big fee hike

The homeowners in one of Merced’s 48 landscape and storm drain districts could soon see a yearly bill that’s more than 40 times what they’ve been paying for about a decade.

That may seem extreme, but residents of the Mansionette district have been paying just over a dollar a year for maintenance done on the landscaping and storm drains in the area. Other districts in Merced pay about $25 to $135 annually, based on the types of services in each area.

During a Merced City Council meeting on Monday, Public Works Director Stan Murdock said he did not know why the developer set the initial assessment fees for the district so low. But the ongoing maintenance has been reassessed to about $43 a year for those 153 homeowners.

The council voted unanimously Monday to continue to discuss the Mansionette district’s fee increase at the next council meeting. The district is roughly bounded by Yosemite and Mercy avenues, and from G Street to just west of Paulson Road.

The number of homes in any given district varies. Some have both storm drainage and landscaping, others have one or the other. Still other districts have light poles that also need to be maintained.

The Mansionette district recently added the cost of storm drain maintenance. It has landscaping, but until recently the storm drains were maintained by the developer, Murdock said. The newly assessed yearly cost for maintenance is about $13,850 total for homeowners, businesses and the city.

The increase can’t go through without homeowners’ approval. Ballots would be mailed to homeowners.

Councilman Michael Belluomini proposed that city staff come to the next meeting with an in-depth report on the costs and the assessment. He said the council needed to be “very diligent” because of the proposed size of the increase.

“I’m not saying out of hand that I’m opposed to the idea,” he said, “but I think, as I think anyone listening to those numbers (would), it’s going to be a shock to these people to get that kind of bill.”

The almost 80 acres in the Mansionette district make it relatively large, according to city staff. The city would pay a portion of the costs, because the nearly 5-acre empty field on the corner of Mansionette Drive and Yosemite Avenue is the site of a proposed police station.

“We’re going to have to pay our fair share,” City Manager John Bramble said.

Because of Proposition 218, the city cannot raise the fees beyond what the Consumer Price Index would allow, which would be 1.7 percent. However, without the approval of homeowners for higher fees, the city won’t be able to perform storm drain or landscaping maintenance.

Some districts in the city have rejected increases in fees. In 2008, Pleasanton Park, Campus North, Merced Auto Center, Olivewood and Hansen Park voted against an increase. Those neighborhoods see reduced maintenance visits from city staff.

The council will resume its discussions on April 21.