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Thousands of property owners in south Orange County are about to get some of their tax money back.

The county is on track to refund $8 million in special taxes to the owners of about 20,000 parcels of land in much of Foothill Ranch, Rancho Santa Margarita and Coto de Caza.

That comes out to an average of $400 per parcel.

The money comes from special taxes known as Mello-Roos that date back to the 1980s in these communities.

Those extra taxes funded construction of fire stations, sheriff offices, street upgrades, bridges, transportation corridors, libraries, parks, storm drains, utilities and other public facilities, according to the county.

Now that those projects have been built, the county is ending the taxes and refunding the extra money that was collected beyond what the infrastructure cost.

“It’s great when the final payments are made by the homeowners, the county reconciles the final numbers and the homeowners actually receive a refund at the conclusion of the [tax district],” county Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, who represents south OC, told Voice of OC.

Scott Voigts is the mayor of Lake Forest, which now includes Foothill Ranch. He says it took some advocating on the part of the city to end the extra taxes, but that county officials were receptive and moved to make it happen.

“I like it when residents get to keep more of their own money,” Voigts told Voice of OC this week.

“[Mello-Roos taxes] are basically development fees that are added on as taxes over the years,” he said.

“And the problem with a lot of agencies – they don’t really let them expire. And so it’s really important for municipalities…to make sure that they keep watch of that, when those are supposed to expire, and advocate for” ending the taxation, he said.

Shari Freidenrich, Orange County’s treasurer-tax collector, “actually was very hospitable and gracious in allowing us to be an advocate and nudge her along with that,” Voigts added.

“I was very pleased that Shari moved [on it]. It wasn’t a hard thing, because she agreed with us.”

Most of the properties slated for refunds are in Rancho Santa Margarita, at about 11,000 parcels.

About 4,000 parcels are getting refunds in Foothill Ranch and another roughly 4,000 in Coto de Caza.

Rancho Santa Margarita Mayor Anthony Beall didn’t return phone messages for comment, and Voice of OC couldn’t find contact information for the community association board in Coto de Caza, which is not incorporated into a city.

The south county Mello-Roos taxes haven’t raised major concerns at county public meetings in recent years, though it’s a much different story with similar taxes in Irvine’s newer Great Park neighborhoods.

A Voice of OC investigation last year found Great Park residents pay some of the highest property taxes in Irvine that go toward funding the city’s billion dollar dream of Orange County’s own Central Park, but have almost no say on where that money goes. 

Those Mello-Roos taxes – also known as community facilities districts or CFDs – are used to pay off multi-million dollar bonds that are the largest source of the park’s funding.

Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.

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