Clovis News

Clovis, fire district fee dispute could head to court

Clovis and the Fresno County Fire Protection District have been arguing for two years over $1 million that the district says it is owed from more than a dozen city annexations.

Their argument could now end up in court.

At issue are transition fees — money paid by developers when a city annexes land previously served by special districts. Cities forward those fees to special districts to cushion the loss of their tax base.

The district board voted to seek arbitration last month, but the city declined. The district now plans to take the matter to court, probably in January, said Mike DelPuppo, the fire district board’s president.

The dispute comes as both agencies are scraping for cash to sustain services. The money in dispute could pay for three district firefighters for a year, DelPuppo said.

The controversy dates to a 2003 agreement approved by the city and fire district. Annexation fees are supposed to be based on the land’s assessed value when it was in the county.

The fire district contends that Fresno County was up to two years behind in reassessing property during the housing boom. That shortchanged the district when the land values were calculated, fire officials say.

The district contends transition fees should have been based on the value of the property just before it was annexed — including improvements that developers made before the land became part of the city. Developers are allowed to begin building on property before annexation, city officials say.

Clovis City Manager Kathy Millison said the purpose of the transition agreement is for a city to pay the district the same share it was paid when the land was undeveloped and in the county.

“They are trying to get a windfall … for development which would not have occurred in the county,” she said.

The fire district has made similar arguments to other cities and recouped $125,000 in additional transition fees.

But the transition-fee dispute with Clovis is the district’s largest, said the district’s lawyer, William Ross.

Sanger officials paid the district’s claim rather than fight it in court. A Sanger developer whose property was alleged to have shortchanged the district paid the bill, said Carlos Sanchez, Sanger’s administrative services director.