Judge tentatively rules Carmichael parks assessment is illegal

The Carmichael Recreation and Park District violated state law by charging an assessment on property owners, a Sacramento Superior Court judge tentatively ruled last week.

Despite the tentative decision, it remains unclear whether Judge Christopher E. Krueger will invalidate the results of the May 2014 election. He told the district to meet with the Sacramento Taxpayers Association, which filed the suit, and discuss possible resolutions.

In the election, 51 percent approved an annual assessment of $45 for a single-family home and more than $1,000 for some businesses. Residents had their votes weighted based on how much property they owned, and the park district’s board validated the results. The assessment was expected to raise almost $700,000 a year to fund construction and security at the district’s parks.

The taxpayers group argued that the district failed to specify the improvements the assessment would fund, and that the charge should instead be considered a general tax requiring two-thirds support of voters. Krueger partially agreed with the argument, finding that the district did not properly follow the process for identifying the projects called for under the assessment.

Carmichael Recreation and Park District officials did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment.

The Sacramento Taxpayers Association said the district intended to use the assessment to shore up its budget instead of specifying actual needs.

An engineer hired by the district failed to properly document how the assessment would pay for proposed improvements, Krueger said in his tentative ruling. He based that decision, in part, on discrepancies between what the district said about the assessment before the election and its arguments in the court case, and found that it was not clear how the money would be spent.

The taxpayers association argued that the district “reverse engineered” the assessment proposal, first conducting a poll to determine how much money voters would support, and then coming up with a proposal to meet that amount. Krueger said the evidence did not support that argument.

Krueger said he is not necessarily convinced that the failure of the engineer’s report is enough to invalidate the election. He has 90 days from Friday to rule.