GUSTINE - A familiar dilemma surfaced once again before the Gustine City Council at its July 2 meeting.

Council members moved forward with the routine process of establishing lighting and landscaping district (LLD) assessments for the coming year - but again broached shortcomings and inequities in the assessment framework.

There are currently three assessment districts within Gustine which help the city offset the cost of services such as park maintenance and street lighting, City Manager Doug Dunford noted.

The annual assessment levied by a citywide district which encompasses all parcels is set to go from $96.84 to $98.28, pending Aug. 6 final approval by the City Council.

But two other LLDs have been an ongoing area of concern for the city, and officials indicated that they will attempt to convince property owners in those neighborhoods to remedy what they contend are inequities in the system. That would involve property owners agreeing to establish a new assessment or increasing an existing levy, depending on the district.

One area of concern is the Borrelli Ranch subdivision, Dunford said.

Only 75 of the 355 homes in that project - representing the final phase of construction - are included in a lighting and landscaping district, the city manager explained. Those property owners will pay $203.96 into the district next year (up from $199.96) if the new levy is approved, while other property owners in Borrelli Ranch pay nothing because no LLD was established for the first phases of construction.

“It was an error on the part of the city,” Dunford said of LLDs not being established for earlier phases.

An issue of another sort rests within the Southport LLD, Dunford said, as that district was formed without the authority to apply annual adjustments to keep pace with increases in the costs of providing services. Residents in that area pay an annual assessment of $47.10.

Collectively, Dunford said, those shortfalls are offset by an approximately $80,000 contribution from the city’s general fund - which is enough to add a public works staff member.

Resolving the dilemma will, however, prove to be no small task.

Council members indicated in their July 2 discussions an interest in looking at revamping the entire assessment system - which would require a citywide vote.

“If we were to vote for a citywide LLD, people in the old part of the city would pay more but would Borrelli pay less because only 75 are paying for the 355?” Mayor Pat Nagy questioned. “Everybody is not paying equally.”

“Those two are paying their own (assessment) and the citywide as well,” council member Rich Ford pointed out.

City Attorney Joshua Nelson said he will return to the council with options, but Dunford said the more likely approach is to narrow the focus on the residents of Borrelli Ranch and Southport.

“I don’t think the citywide (district) will be the issue. It is Borrelli and Southport,” he told Mattos Newspapers. “It will be a matter of reaching out to the citizens in those areas and expressing the need to move forward (with changes to the assessments) and why.

“We are looking at individual meetings to talk to them about everybody paying their fair share so the city can do better upkeep,” Dunford continued. “The rest of the city of helping pay for Borrelli Ranch, even though it is their area they are keeping up.”

Bringing the additional 280 Borrelli Ranch property owners into the LLD would not change the annual assessment charged to the 75 parcels in the district, Dunford noted. The rates paid by owners within the Borrelli LLD are calculated as though all 355 parcels are being assessed, he said, and are not inflated to compensate for lack of assessments on the majority of homes.

That compensation comes from the city’s general fund, Dunford reiterated.

Incorporating the remaining Borrelli lots into the LLD, or establishing a cost-of-living escalator for the Southport LLD, would require the city to hold a Prop. 218 election within each area. That means property owners would have the ability to block the proposed changes if more than 50 percent protested.

City staff members said they anticipate presenting options in early August for the council to consider before deciding whether - or how - to move forward in addressing the assessment issue.