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The Santa Clarita City Council will hold a public hearing Tuesday on a staff proposal to change the city’s landscape maintenance district rates and boundaries.

Landscape maintenance districts, or “LMDs,” are mechanisms to pay for the upkeep of common-area landscaping and hardscape such as roadway medians, paseos and street trees. They are funded through property tax assessments.

Today, 76 percent of all parcels in the city are in a city-wide LMD. The city proposes to add another 5,957 parcels to the district, for a total of 87 percent.

However, under the proposal, almost all homeowners would see a fee reduction – in some cases, as much as 90 percent lower.

That’s because the city intends to change the way parcels are assessed.

LMDs are divided into zones. Today all parcels within a zone are assessed the same rate, regardless of whether they’re residential or commercial. Under the plan, parcels would be assessed on the basis of the benefit they receive – and a bigger commercial property receives a bigger benefit than a smaller single-family home, so commercial property would be assessed at higher rates than residential property under the proposal.

If approved, “a significant number of residential parcels will experience a permanent LMD rate decrease commencing in Fiscal Year 2012-13,” the staff report says.

For example, homes in Valencia Hills that now pay $378.81 per year to maintain trees would pay only $34.80 if the proposal is approved.

All but 15 of the 711 residential parcels in Circle J Ranch will see a reduction, ranging from $71.96 less to $961.54 less per year. The 15 odd parcels will pay $560.26 more.

Many zone boundaries are being adjusted to account for development that has occurred since they were established. In Circle J, for instance, the county created an LMD in 1985, prior to city formation in 1987. Homes built in Circle J in 1991 and 1999 were assessed at different rates, even though they receive “substantially the same degree of benefit” as the earlier homes, the staff report says. Under the proposal, they’d be lumped together at the same rate – a lower assessment for 98 percent of the property owners there.

Proposed Newhall zone boundary (Click image to enlarge)

One significant change is the proposed addition of a zone in Newhall to encompass 2,000 properties along Main Street, Railroad Avenue, Newhall Avenue, Dockweiler Drive, small portions of Sierra Highway and Lyons Avenue, and the Newhall Library area. At a maximum assessment of $71.57, the new zone would finance the upkeep of existing parkways, street trees, ornamental structures, easements, and medians in public rights-of -way.

LMD rate changes require the approval of the affected property owners. The city mailed ballots July 27, with instructions that they had to be returned by Sept. 13. By law, the city must accept ballots until the end of the public hearing.

Once the mayor closes Tuesday’s public hearing, the city clerk’s staff will count the ballots. Votes are weighted by assessment, not signatures. In other words, if the dollar amount represented by ballots in favor exceeds the dollar amount represented by ballots in opposition, the changes are approved. A final engineer’s report would go to the council for approval Sept. 27.

Contrarily, if opposition ballots outweigh ballots in favor, then a “majority protest” exists and the whole thing dies.

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