Owners of single-family homes on corner lots could save an average of $60 on their street light tax bills next year, if the San Fernando City Council adopts a recommendation from its staff and a consulting firm.
At a recent council meeting, the city's public works department and a private engineering firm recommended a new tax assessment method to raise the annual $267,000 the city needs to maintain its 1,400 street lights.
Since 1980, the city has levied taxes to operate street lights based on the amount of property that fronts the street and the property classification--either residential, commercial or industrial.
That system was based on the idea that properties with greater street frontage receive a greater benefit from street lighting than do smaller properties and therefore should pay more. Under that formula, some residents who own properties on street corners are assessed up to four times more than their neighbors, because corner lots front on two streets.
After some residents complained that the system is unfair, the city hired an engineering firm and held a series of public workshops and hearings over the past year to study different assessment systems.
By a 3-2 vote last week, the City Council instructed its staff to develop a new system of collecting the tax that would assess all corner lots in residential zones based on the footage of front yards only, excluding side yards. According to city records, adopting the new method would result in the dropping of the annual tax bill of a homeowner with an average 50-foot lot from $90 to $26.32.
The tax bills of other single-family homeowners and commercial property owners would go up slightly: Other homeowners would pay an average of 58 cents more per year; commercial property owners would pay $1.38 more per year, according to the city study.
Councilman Raul Godinez and Councilwoman Rosa Chacon voted against the change.
"The issue is not just about changing the system," Godinez said. "I felt it was about fairness."
Godinez said any new method should include creation of a fourth category, multifamily residential. Currently, the owners of apartment buildings and other multifamily residences pay the same street light tax rate as single-family homeowners.
"Think about the traffic and street use generated by the . . . apartment buildings," Godinez said. "They benefit from the lights as much as anybody."
The city will hold a final public hearing on the issue in June or July, officials said.