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VALLEY PERSPECTIVE

Proposition's Impact on Palmdale

Property owners face a new process by which they will decide whether to keep landscape maintenance assessments.

March 09, 1997|STEVE WILLIAMS | Steve Williams is public works director for the city of Palmdale

City and county governments throughout California are wrestling with the single largest financial issue to hit them since passage of Proposition 13. Called into uncertainty this year by the passage of Proposition 218 are millions of dollars of tax and assessment revenue that municipalities have counted on to pay for government services, including police and fire protection, street lights, library services and, in the case of Palmdale, maintenance of landscaping around housing subdivisions.

Through passage of Proposition 218, California residents demanded a direct vote on these assessments and special taxes, and Palmdale is wholeheartedly obliging with those wishes. Ballots to decide the fate of future assessments for city landscaping maintenance are being mailed to property owners in increments through late-April.

Now comes the real challenge. Since Proposition 218 was overwhelmingly approved in November, Department of Public Works and other city officials have known that their single greatest task would be to inform people of how their property assessments have been spent in the past, and how their responses to the new balloting could affect their community.

Thus, Palmdale is conducting an extraordinary educational program to let people know the benefits of maintained landscapes and answer questions about how assessment monies would be spent. Those who want to contact public works directly may do so by calling (805) 267-5300.

Since 1984, Palmdale property owners have been paying for landscape maintenance through the use of assessment districts approved in compliance with pre-Proposition 218 laws. The levy has appeared on property owners' annual tax statements and residents have come to enjoy certain levels of landscaping and graffiti removal services. Palmdale's many housing subdivisions have remained visually attractive, at least in terms of landscaping and lack of graffiti.

Under Proposition 218, the process of public participation changes. Municipalities now must seek voter approval to maintain services that may in the past have been taken for granted. The quality of life people have become accustomed to could soon change, depending on the outcome of this balloting.

It is important to remember that no new assessments are at stake, but rather whether to keep those that many people have lived with comfortably for years. Proposition 218, in effect, asks property owners to decide whether they want to keep landscaping already existing around their subdivisions, or let it die for lack of maintenance.

These landscaped areas contain $25-million worth of trees, shrubs, grass and other landscaping attributes. Maintenance costs $2.2 million a year. Property assessments pay for all this, as well as for removing graffiti that may appear on residential walls.

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If landscaping is allowed to die, property values may decline. Sheriff's officials say the loss of landscaping could even lead to increased crime in certain neighborhoods.

People may ask: Why not use the city's general fund to pay for landscape maintenance? The answer is simple: Palmdale's general fund is tapped out providing revenues for other essential services, such as police protection. Besides, the city already has decided to assume nearly $1 million in costs associated with maintaining landscaping along major streets and at freeway interchanges. This landscaping, a separate property assessment, will no longer appear on local tax statements.

The overall appearance of Palmdale is at stake. It is green and beautiful now, but without approval of the assessments, the city will run out of maintenance funds June 30.

A city must listen to voters and property owners when it comes to taxes and assessments. But as responsible governmental entities, we must also tell residents how these tax and assessment revenues are really benefiting them. Proposition 218 has laid that challenge before us; we hope we are answering the call.

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