Rate increases heading to Selma landscape districts

City of Selma corrects methodology for determining Landscaping and Lighting Maintenance District rates, sets Prop 218 hearing on rate increase

Selma City Councilmember John Trujillo comments on an item during the council's regular meeting Feb. 5, 2024. (Serena Bettis)
Selma City Councilmember John Trujillo comments on an item during the council's regular meeting Feb. 5, 2024. (Serena Bettis)
Serena Bettis
Published May 9, 2024  • 
12:00 pm

SELMA – The city of Selma is addressing a need for increased attention to landscaping in neighborhoods around the city by raising rates for Landscaping and Lighting Maintenance Districts (LLMDs) and looking into alternative landscaping services that could save taxpayers money later on.

In order to first ensure that LLMDs receive the necessary funding, the city must raise the annual rates levied against property owners through the public hearing process mandated by Proposition 218. The Selma City Council authorized the city to begin the process through a 3-2 vote at its May 6 meeting; Councilmember Sarah Guerra and Mayor Scott Robertson voted against the authorization.

“There is a need in the community for maintenance of our landscape areas that should be paid for by these LLMDs,” City Manager Fernando Santillan said. He explained that, sometimes, because the LLMD rates were set too low without enough analysis, there are not enough resources to maintain these areas properly.

Deputy City Manager Jerome Keene explained that as the city has grown, LLMDs have been created for new subdivisions in order to pay for the upkeep of specific landscaping or lighting present in one area. In theory, a district’s rates should cover the cost of maintenance for the whole district, but Keene said the way in which the city has previously assessed the rates for each LLMD has not correctly accounted for the total costs. 

The past practice had the city basing its rate assessments on the prior year’s costs, not the upcoming estimated costs, so things like electric utility rate increases and general inflation were not taken into consideration. To fix this, City Engineer David Horn conducted estimates of each LLMD zone — of which the city has 10 — to determine all associated costs, including turf and plant maintenance, tree trimming, Cal Water irrigation and Pacific Gas and Electric Company utilities and more.

Additionally, Keene said the city has special enterprise funds for the money gathered from each LLMD, so that they can ensure the funds are clearly allocated and the city can identify what costs are generated from each district. Currently, because the LLMD assessments have not been high enough, Keene said that remaining costs have been taken out of the city’s general fund. 

“What you don’t want to do is have the community at large paying for a special benefit that residents that move into these subdivisions where there is an LLMD assessment are receiving, and it’s been disclosed to them when they purchase their property that they have an assessment to fund specific amenities of that subdivision,” Keene said. 

The Prop 218 public hearing for increasing LLMD rates has been scheduled for July 1 at the regular city council meeting. All 10 LLMD zones that the city has will see rate increases, and property owners who live in those zones will receive notice of the public hearing and their new rates at least 45 days before July 1, as mandated by state law. 

Rate increases are dependent on how previous assessments compare to the cost estimates from the most recent assessment and vary widely. For example, the LLMD Zone 3 rate will increase by $8.97 and the Zone 8 rate will increase by $68.58.

As part of the Prop 218 process, residents who pay property tax in the LLMDs can protest their rate increases either in person or through letters sent to the city before the public hearing at 6 p.m. on July 1. If more than half of the residents for a district protest the increase, the city cannot implement it. 

Cost cutting

During discussion on this item, Robertson and Guerra both expressed concerns over the steep rate increases some residents will face, and Guerra said it would be preferable if the city could have incrementally implemented the increases. 

“This is taxpayer money here, and I would really like to see accountability in terms of the residents paying as little as possible, not having those amounts,” Robertson said. “That’s the danger I see of having a budget for an LLMD like this and why I’d like to see it trued up and to see exactly a report to the council every year.” 

While some cost increases are unavoidable — such as electric rate increases being passed down from PG&E — Santillan said the city is looking into ways to reduce costs associated with the LLMDs and will be sending out a Request for Proposal (RFP) to see how much it would cost the city to contract landscaping maintenance work to a private company. 

Additionally, Santillan said city staff are talking about the possibility of implementing a Community Facilities District (CFD) in the future and not forming any more LLMDs as new residential subdivisions are developed so that the city can better manage the funds and also maintain other services like parks and certain streets. 

“Those are all things that we’re doing on a yearly basis to make sure that costs are down for residents, but going forward, you’ll see a lot more proactivity in that area,” Santillan said.

Serena Bettis
General Assignment Reporter