One after another, about a dozen Talega residents told trustees on the Capistrano Unified school board that they deserve to have their taxes lowered after the district achieved $17 million in savings by refinancing the bonds used to build Talega schools.
After all, it’s their money, they said. And everything that they were contractually obligated to be pay for has been built.
The money they were discussing is a special tax Talega residents pay, called Mello Roos. Talega residents are the only ones in San Clemente who pay Mello Roos fees.
After refinancing several bonds for Mello-Roos districts throughout the sprawling school district, trustees decided in August they would hold onto the Talega windfall, $17 million, to repair dilapidated San Clemente High School. Meanwhile, landowners in Las Flores saw their taxes lowered.
“There are some inequities here that must be addressed with the surplus,” said Susie Hattan, a Talega resident, tax attorney and mom of three students. “This isn’t about a tax break for Talega residents but …following the law.”
Hattan said it’s also not fair that Talega residents should disproportionately have to carry the financial burden of repairs at San Clemente High.
“The intent of the Mello-Roos statute was not to create an endless stream of revenues,” she said. “The savings should be returned to the taxpayers.”
Hattan added that a school board resolution in 2006 declared the projects envisioned by the Talega Mello-Roos district complete.
Resident Jason Ewell pointed out that it is illegal to use Mello-Roos dollars to cover maintenance, and many of the items on San Clemente’s to-do list are deferred maintenance projects
“We as a united body of Talega residents,” Ewell said, demanding the district investigate how it spends the Talega money.
Amanda Earnest presented the board with 324 signatures on paper and another 462 signatures gathered online. She and others have also been canvassing every single Talega neighborhood, with only four more to go.
“Everyone had no idea that they were paying more than the bond payment and interest,” she said.
The school board will take up the question of the refund at its next meeting.