Residents of Atascadero's Las Lomas subdivision are scratching their heads at a recent City Council approval that nearly doubled their property assessments, lamenting accounting errors and a lack of transparency and communication from the city.
The Las Lomas assessment districts, formed by the city in 2005 when the neighborhood was developed, pay for services like road, drainage, landscaping, and lighting maintenance. Property owners pay the assessments annually.
This year, homeowners' streets and drainage bills are increasing 600 percent—from $52 to $300—to fund road repairs, while the landscaping/lighting assessment will increase from $250 to $275 despite the fund having a surplus. The Atascadero City Council voted 5-0 on June 13 to approve the increases. The city's other two assessment districts—Apple Valley and De Anza Estates—received a minimal increase and no increase, respectively.
"We want to have roads maintained forever," City Manager Rachelle Rickard said at a May 23 City Council meeting. "We want to have enough money in there to continually keep them up to date."
But officials and residents are butting heads.
Colleen Annes, a Las Lomas homeowner, told New Times she and her neighbors recently discovered that the city overpaid the Las Lomas landscaping contractor by $11,000. Annes is seeking better care and accounting of the neighborhood's money.
"My goal is to have transparency and accountability in the management of the Las Lomas assessment district," said Annes, a retired military flight surgeon.
Rickard acknowledged that the city did make an error on the payment to the landscaper, Madrone Landscape.
"Dr. Annes did find an error in the bid sheets for Madrone," she said at the meeting. "We are currently working to try and resolve that issue, whether that is them refunding us money or providing other services in the future."
In addition, some residents dispute the city's intention to charge homeowners to fund multi-million-dollar road repairs that will be needed decades in the future.
"I'll be dead by then," one homeowner told the City Council on June 13.
Annes also pointed out language in the assessment reports that states the assessments "are not intended to fund major replacements or construction of the street surfaces."
City officials contend that the assessments, while higher this year, are well below the maximum amount they're allowed to charge. Rickard said ultimately all the costs for road repairs in the neighborhood have to be borne by its residents.
"Those major resurfacings still need to be done, and they need to be done by the residents and not the city," Rickard said.
Atascadero City Council members suggested to the property owners that they consider forming a homeowners' association as a solution.
"I'm pretty sure we'd be amenable to that," Councilmember Heather Moreno said.
Annes said she and her neighbors are in communication about their best path to move forward.
"I'm hoping we can work with the city in the coming year to resolve some of the conflicts we have over the way our assessments are determined and managed," she said.