Only about half of the residents of Ceres are part of a special Lighting & Landscaping District (LLD) and paying assessments but revenue is not covering the bill.
On Monday, Nov. 28 members of the Ceres City Council talked about how to remedy the problem.
"More and more we're going to be seeing a big difference in revenue versus costs," said Public Works Administrative Analyst Robin Kloepfer.
She anticipates that for the 2016-17 fiscal year that the city likely will come up short in the lighting expenses by $101,000 and $30,000 short for landscaping. Also, costs paid by homeowners on their property tax bills are also not keeping up with the cost of administration of the program since the cost is $23,000 and revenue is $8,000. The differences are being picked up by the city's General Fund.
The shortfalls are due to a formula that was too conservative, some put in place decades ago.
The city cannot arbitrarily raise the assessments beyond the consumer price index. Increases are subject to a Prop. 218 protest hearing.
The city created its first LLD in 1987 in Westpointe and as new subdivisions were built new properties were placed in one to help pay for street light costs as well as landscaping maintenance costs of sound walls and street medians.
City Manager Toby Wells said the older areas of Ceres were not placed into an LLD because there is no landscaping to take care of and since it was commonly expected that taxes paid for the street lights, if they exist.
Kloepfer asked for, and won city approval to seek Requests for Proposals from a contractor to "assume all responsibilities of landscaping, that includes items such as actually repairing irrigation, fertilization, aeration and tree maintenance ... and see what the true cost and benefit it is to have somebody do that work."
The second option is to prepare for increases through the Proposition 218 process.
The third option she presented was to explore other funding mechanisms rather than go for a Prop. 218 election.
A total of 6,386 parcels in Ceres pay an assessment for street lights. To pay for landscaping along sound walls and rights of way in the newer parts of the city, 6,460 parcels pay an assessment as part of the L&LD. Most of the L&LDs are located in Westpointe, Eastgate, Davante and southwest Ceres areas. The older parts of Ceres are not in a district, with the exception of a 15-parcel district on Darrah Street that agreed to being included to pay for more recent public right of way improvements.
Mayor Chris Vierra maintained his belief that he doesn't think it's fair that some pay an assessment while others don't. But City Manager Toby Wells reminded him that every house built after 1987 "knew going in what that was." He added that the homes built prior assumed that property taxes would cover the costs of lighting. Prop. 13 chiseled away tax revenues for those services. Wells also noted that many older neighborhoods do not enjoy the higher standing of lighting.
"Getting those folks who are low-lit or in some cases no-lit to pay for a street light funding mechanism to be comprehensive is a pretty significant undertaking," said Wells.
Expanding the LLD to the entire city would be subject to an election, which would be difficult.
"I don't see the voters of this city going for it, at current," said Wells.
Wells admitted there is disparity, particularly as the newer homes are asked to pay more for services. He noted how Eastgate property owners are also paying an assessment for police and fire services - something which the rest of the city does not pay.