Homeowners in Ladera Ranch and nearby Esencia can expect some refunds on their property tax, after OC officials have promised to end special Mello Roos taxes in the area.
Elsewhere, county officials are about to end the Mello Roos taxes and provide partial refunds to homeowners in Foothill Ranch, Rancho Santa Margarita, Coto de Caza and Newport Coast in response to local requests from city officials.
The same type of taxes – also known as “CFDs” for “community facilities districts” – are in effect in two other places in OC: Ladera Ranch and the nearby community of Esencia, a county spokeswoman told Voice of OC.
Some of the Ladera Ranch special taxes date back more than 20 years, to the late 90s and early 2000s.
Those property owners will be getting refunds and see their Mello Roos taxes end, according to OC Supervisor Lisa Bartlett.
But after a week of questions, officials wouldn’t say when until after this article was published.
Last week, Voice of OC asked county spokeswoman Molly Nichelson when Ladera and Esencia owners will receive refunds and how much will be refunded.
On Wednesday morning, Voice of OC asked again and noted a publishing deadline later in the day.
There were no answers as of the publication of this article Thursday.
Bartlett on Tuesday said the extra taxes will end, and the refunds provided, once the Mello Roos bonds are paid off. Though she didn’t have answers on when that will happen.
“[I] look forward to taking the [refund] action many more times in the future, for the 5th District, as the CFD bonds continue to get paid off in the future,” Bartlett said just before approving the refunds for other areas.
Asked by Voice of OC if this means she will approve the remaining refunds by the time her term expires in early 2023, Bartlett said she would put the refunds in motion.
“My goal is [to] have the CFDs paid off as soon as possible and if there are excess payments then the homeowners should all receive a refund…of any excess fees paid on the final payment,” she said in a text message.
“I plan on providing a directive to staff to have all future CFDs in my district paid off at the earliest possible date and to provide refunds to homeowners, if applicable, for any excess payments received on the final payment,” added Bartlett, who worked as a real estate agent before her 2014 election as county supervisor.
Asked again when the refunds would be provided, she said she’s trying to get it handled as soon as possible, but did not have a timeframe for when the bonds are scheduled to be paid off and refunds provided.
“I have been working with [the treasurer-tax collector] to let us know as soon as each of the CFD bonds have been fully paid off so that we can get onto a near term [Board of Supervisors] agenda the item for approval, if applicable, any refunds to homeowners,” she said.
But after this article was published Thursday, county officials finally answered the questions that had been asked for more than a week.
The Mello Roos taxes will end in Ladera Ranch after the bonds are paid off in August 2029 through August 2034, according to information Nichelson provided in a Thursday email.
The Esencia special taxes already in place will end after the bonds are retired from August 2045 through August 2050, she added.
The extra Mello Roos taxes fund construction of fire stations, sheriff offices, street upgrades, bridges, transportation corridors, libraries, parks, storm drains, utilities and other public facilities, according to the county.
After those projects are built and paid off, the county has the option of ending the taxes and refunding the extra money that was collected beyond what the infrastructure cost.
The $10 million in recently-approved refunds was done by the county after local city officials approached the county to ask for it.
Scott Voigts, the mayor of Lake Forest, told Voice of OC 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 summer.
“[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.”
Massive amounts of money flow through Mello-Roos taxes, with more than $270 million collected from taxpayers in the Foothill Ranch, Rancho Santa Margarita and Coto de Caza areas that are having their special taxes eliminated.
That’s according to finance data county officials provided in response to a Voice of OC request.
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 are used to pay off multi-million dollar bonds that are the largest source of the park’s funding.
This story has been updated to include the bond expiration dates.
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.