Modesto to consider next steps on Enochs pool
MODESTO, Dec 13, 2012 (The Modesto Bee - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
City leaders will consider Jan. 8 a formal response to Modesto City Schools' rejection of a proposal to resolve a dispute over extra taxes, City Councilman Dave Cogdill Jr. said Wednesday.
The school board voted unanimously Monday night to not co-sponsor an advisory vote of Village I homeowners regarding construction of a pool at Enochs High. A vote to hire someone to design the pool likely will take place at its next meeting Jan. 14, Superintendent Pam Able said.
At issue is $1.8 million in Village I tax money being held to pay about half the anticipated cost of the pool. The city believes the district has exceeded its taxing authority and should use the money instead to pay down construction bonds and end those taxes sooner. It threatened legal action against the schools, but in November offered to poll taxpayers and abide by voters' wishes.
The district denies overcharging taxpayers and says the pool, as part of the original Enochs design, is a promise made to Village I parents.
Monday, school board members said that to be fair, the vote would have to include all the property owners in its territory, who all contributed to building Enochs. Such a vote would cost $375,000. An election for just Village I homeowners would cost the district about $15,000.
In a letter sent to Mayor Garrad Marsh and Cogdill on Tuesday, board President Nancy Cline said the higher cost was why the board rejected the city's proposal.
"We believe that our ... six previous votes to consider and pursue the pool and its funding were done at public meetings with notice, resulting in public input and strong public support for the pool," Cline wrote.
Cogdill said Wednesday that only Village I taxpayers had been overcharged and that adding in the rest the district never was considered.
"Such a decision would result in a massive inflation of election costs, which could then be used to find such an advisory election was infeasible. To our great disappointment, that appears to have occurred," he said by email.
Asked if the city plans to file a lawsuit against the district or conduct a special election on its own, Cogdill said the city "will continue to pursue all options. ... The City Council will reconvene on Jan. 8 to discuss our next steps."
That deliberation will not include Councilman John Gunderson, who said that as a substitute teacher for the Modesto district, the city's attorney advised him he has a conflict of interest. No other council members responded to a Bee inquiry seeking comment.
Most Village I property tax bills have an additional $390 assessed to help build schools, including Enochs High. The pool amounts to about $20 of that annual bill, which each property will pay for 23 years.
The assessment is based on a 1994 mitigation agreement between the Modesto City Schools and Sylvan Union districts, Village I developers and the city. The agreement limited how much school districts could collect from taxpayers and decreed any money the state paid toward building the schools would dollar for dollar lower that amount.
An independent legal opinion issued last December disagreed with the districts' calculations of the total dollar amount and said state funding had not been used to lower it. The Meyers Nave law firm report concludes that the districts probably violated the mitigation agreement.
Similar tax arrangements to build schools are in place in other areas, including subdivisions in Riverbank and northwest Modesto also being charged for the pool. But those taxing districts did not have mitigation agreements.
Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2339, and on Twitter, @NanAustin.
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