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Poway District Responds To inewsource Probe With Mello-Roos Website

Aired 9/17/13 on KPBS News.

Homeowners who pay Mello-Roos property taxes will soon be able to double-check they're paying the correct amount.

— Homeowners who pay Mello-Roos property taxes to the Poway Unified School District will be able to verify they are paying the correct amount at a website the district developed in response to an investigation by inewsource.

The independent news organization delved into the calculations used to determine the tax amounts and found some San Diego homeowners were being overcharged and others undercharged. inewsource illuminated the problems for taxpayers and the district by building an interactive map that enables homeowners to compare their tax payments with those of their neighbors.

Mello-Roos is a special property tax, passed into law in California 30 years ago, to bypass the property tax restrictions of the landmark Proposition 13. It makes it possible to tax property owners in new developments to pay for schools, roads and other infrastructure.

Most of the mistakes inewsource identified were in a city of San Diego special tax district in the suburb of Del Sur in the northeastern part of the city. One homeowner had been overcharged more than $6,000 a year.

inewsource also uncovered an inaccuracy in the Poway school district: a homeowner who was overcharged hundreds of dollars in Mello-Roos taxes.

All of the errors appear to originate from problems with city of San Diego building permits, which is the official record of square footage.

Mello-Roos tax rates vary dramatically, but almost always use square footage in the calculation.

At its board meeting Monday night, the district unveiled an interactive website that allows homeowners to check the accuracy of their tax bills and report problems to the district.

Property owners who have been overcharged are eligible for a refund going back one year.

Those who may have been paying too little won’t be asked to pay back taxes.

The online tool is expected to be live by the end of the week and will be found at the school district’s website.

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