On Monday, August 20, your taxes were raised and you didn’t even notice. How did this happen? On that night, the Sweetwater High School District (“SUHSD”) Board raised the Mello Roos tax that you pay on your property because, as the Superintendent of the District noted, they have the right to raise the tax whenever they see the need.
What is Mello Roos? As you may know, “Mello Roos” is a tax that you pay in addition to your normal property taxes. Not all properties have this special tax but if your property tax is pretty high, Mello Roos is probably to blame. If you are curious as to how much you pay go to the San Diego County Treasurer Tax Collector website, enter your address, click on “begin search,” then click on “View Detail.” So why do we have this special tax?
A Prop 13 Workaround: In 1978, the famous Proposition 13 was passed limiting the ability of public entities to increase property taxes. This severely constricted the ability of public agencies to raise revenue for things like schools, parks, fire stations, etc. So, four years later, a method to go around the new law was devised: The “Mello-Roos Community Facilities Act.” The logic behind this tax generator was that new housing areas would need new schools, parks, fire stations, etc. so a tax could be levied just on the properties in that new area. However, the tax was not meant to be forever.
The 20-year Myth: many people believe that Mello Roos is a 20 year tax but, as people who have had their homes for more than 20 years know, the Mello Roos tax is still in their tax bill. How is that possible? The base tax will continue until the original bond has been paid off. This is from 20 to 40 years. It’s also because agencies, like SUHSD, continue to to raise the tax as they see fit.
What is the Tax Paying? In theory, the tax was meant to pay for infrastructure like new school buildings, sewers, or roads. But, as was found out at a recent SUHSD board meeting, the Board used Mello Roos money to pay for iPads. The rationalization was that Mello Roos can be used for “technology” purposes.
What Can You Do: Not much. You elect the members of the Board of Trustees, and they in turn, hire the Superintendent. That is who decides when and how much to raise your taxes. You can attend Board meetings and voice your disproval. However, if you attend these Board meetings, you will see a complete disregard for public opinion. There was supposed to be a public dialogue between the community and the superintendent but the superintendent canceled the day it was supposed to occur. A new meeting is being planned.
Bottom Line The District should answer these two basic questions:
– what are the Mello Roos funds being used for?
– was the Mello Roos tax raised this year and why?