City staff members are working on a plan to get out of a more than $700,000 hole because of money spent on the maintenance of parks and streetlights in residential neighborhoods.
According to city records, there are 18 landscaping and lighting districts in Los Banos. Eight of them are operating at a combined deficit of $720,000. The money needed to cover the shortfall is paid out of the city’s general fund.
City Manager Steve Carrigan said he plans to present a plan to the City Council in September that would make the districts self-sufficient.
Los Banos started on the path to landscape and lighting district deficits as the housing boom hit more than a decade ago. As new subdivisions came into town, what homeowners would be made to pay for their parks and streetlights was limited.
“It seems that when you go back to when the districts were formed they were formed below the maintenance costs,” Public Works Director Mark Fachin said. “The initial cost is set when the initial district is set and that’s supposed to be on actual maintenance. They seemed to have been set low, so you’re treading water trying to get it back.”
The city has the added problem of caps being placed on how much landscaping and lighting districts fees can be increased. Fachin said each district except one has a 10 percent maximum increase. The one that does not fall into that category has a 5 percent cap.
Carrigan said six of the districts have diminishing deficits.
Two districts city officials are most concerned about are in the Meadowlands subdivision near Pacheco High School and a district stretching from Talbott Park near Los Banos Junior High School to Place Road near Home Depot.
There is hope that more homes will be built in the Meadowlands subdivision this summer, thus creating additional revenue as more homeowners pay into the district. The other subdivision does not have much hope of new homes being built, Finance Director Sonya Williams said.
“That one has problems – you have Home Depot and you don’t have anything else developed,” Fachin said. “You pretty much have one person putting into the pool right now.”
Williams said the deficit for the Talbott Park subdivision is only $30,000, but it is growing. She said the Meadowlands subdivision is at more than a $300,000 deficit, which is also increasing.
Williams said state law prohibits one landscaping and lighting district from giving money to another. She said the general fund also cannot be used to “officially” lend money to the districts.
Fachin said the City Council, based on engineering studies has increased the amount homeowners pay in some landscaping and lighting districts through the years.
In the past few weeks, city staff has taken advantage of the housing slowdown by increasing the amount that will be paid into landscaping and lighting districts by future homeowners in undeveloped portions of approved subdivisions.
Carrigan declined to state what impact taking $720,000 out of the general fund has on the city each year.
“I don’t know how to answer that question,” he said. “It’s a problem that’s been out there for a long time and we’ve been ignoring it. I don’t think there’s any real good solution. The good news today is six of the eight of them are getting healthier.”