By ABBY SOUZA
Road repair and snow removal cost some Tuolumne County residents more than others.
The fees 39 neighborhoods pay to the county for the upkeep of their streets are before Tuolumne County supervisors every meeting for the next few weeks.
These neighborhoods are called county service areas, though people in the foothills know them better as communities. They include Comstock Ranch, Jupiter, Miwuk Pines, Poppy Hills and Cedar Ridge.
Since 1987, the county has not taken new subdivision roads into the 600-plus-mile, county-maintained road system. Every development that has gone in since then has become a CSA. Although the county's Public Works Department maintains roads, residents pay for it.
Tomorrow, the board will be asked to approve the fees for five CSAs. Already, the board has OK'd several CSA fee plans and will discuss a few more at every meeting until the process is complete.
The board's discussions also provide a public forum for people who voted but still want to comment.
Proposition 218, passed in 1997, requires property owners to approve most property-related fees by vote. Each property owner within a county service area receives a packet with an annual report and the proposed increase, and is asked to return the completed ballot.
The number of property owners who respond varies, said Sharon Garrison, county engineering assistant in charge of CSAs.
"A 50 percent return on ballots is pretty good," Garrison said.
For example, the Miwuk Pines CSA's fee passed at the July 8 Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors meeting. It had 76 percent of the residents' votes for it, with 24 percent of possible voters turning in ballots.
However, Comstock Ranch had 58 percent of its property owners vote, and 88 percent of them were in favor of the fees.
In order for the fees to fail, there must be a majority protest. Under Proposition 218, if more than 50 percent of the votes are against the fee, it does not pass and that CSA isn't funded for that year.
This can be a frustrating rule, said Garrison.
"If only one ballot comes in and it was against (the increased CSA fee) it would be a majority protest," Garrison said.
If this happens, road repairs can still be performed with remaining money in that CSA account left over from the year before, said Garrison. But any large, costly projects would have to be put on hold.
The Public Works department has a formula for determining fees. Mainly, it's based on car trips per lot and the distance of those lots to a county road.
"We measure from the county road to the farthest edge of the parcel," Garrison said. This means people who own property farther into a CSA pay more than those closer to a county road.
Annual CSA fees range from $20 to $700 or more.
In the formula, the county uses the 10 round trips it says a single-family home generates each day.
This number seemed outrageous to Regina Gallo, who owns property in the Black Oak CSA in Twain Harte.
Gallo told supervisors she does not live on her undeveloped property, and does not make 10 trips on the roads each day. She argued that her fee should be adjusted. Garrison said this is a common request.
"If we didn't measure with 10 trips a day and you start a subdivision with only five houses, those people would end up paying almost all of it," Garrison said.
And, once people do decide to build on their lots, the construction vehicles on the site would cause extra damage to the road, she said.
Gallo's CSA was continued to tomorrow's meeting so county staff members like Garrison could report back on the logic behind the 10-trips-a-day measurement.
Twain Harte Heights, Gina Avenue, Vilas Lane and Mill Villa Manor CSAs will also be looked at by the board at tomorrow's meeting.
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