Sage Town Hall Association works to become census-defined place

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Bill Donahue
Sage Town Hall Association president Bill Donahue addresses the crowd at an association meeting. Anza Valley Outlook/Courtesy photo

The Sage Town Hall Association has been busy pursuing their goal to have Sage designated a census-defined place rather than just a populated place for the 2020 census. With the help of Riverside County Supervisor Chuck Washington’s office, the group was able to have a map of Sage created and all the other documents needed compiled and submitted to the U.S. Census Bureau last summer.

“We thought this would be a no-brainer for the federal government,” STHA president Bill Donahue. “Sage is roughly four times the size of the city of Hemet, and there are approved places as small as Aguanga’s gated community, Lake Riverside Estates. We have the support of our local government in gaining this designation. Despite all this, we have received resistance from the Census Bureau on this proposed change. We are working to hopefully have this issue resolved before April.”

The association is also working on getting a unique ZIP code for the Sage community.

“We continue to be stonewalled by the United States Postal Service on the issue of our ZIP code. Despite having a letter from the USPS stating that once we submitted a map that they would give us a separate ZIP code, the postmaster has not responded to us since we submitted the map and other documents,” Donahue said.

The Hemet ZIP code that blankets the rural community is causing problems for the residents in the form of misrepresentation of sales taxes. Within the 7.75% sales tax is 1% designated for local government for unincorporated Sage, this means the county government.

Both Hemet and Temecula have added an additional 1% city tax in addition to the state sales tax. When Sage residents make online or large purchases such as vehicles, they are taxed based on their home address, not the store location.

“Our ZIP code not only gives the vendor the idea that we live in Hemet and should pay the extra 1% city sales tax, but according to the California Tax and Fee Department, it is causing the 1% within the basic sales tax to be misdirected to the city of Hemet instead of the county of Riverside,” Donahue said.

The STHA assisted several residents in resolving the matter of being incorrectly charged Hemet city sales taxes. According to the group, some vendors are less cooperative.

“Despite my success in helping several Sage residents receive refunds of the taxes they were overcharged, I have been unable to resolve the overcharge by the Hemet CDJR dealer on my purchase of two vehicles,” Donahue said. “The CA Tax and Fee Department has said that I need to take the dealership to small claims court. They felt no responsibility in correcting the misdirecting of sales tax money rightly belonging to the county, to the cities of Hemet and Temecula. Until we can reestablish Sage as a distinct place from Hemet, residents of Sage will continue to be charged taxes we don’t owe and have our crime and census statistics negatively skewed by those of Hemet. However, because of our ZIP code we are being charged 8.75% with no money going to the county and 2% being paid to the city of Hemet.”

The county provides all of Sage’s public services. Police and fire from Hemet do not respond to Sage. The taxes are collected from the community but do not benefit the community.

“This is not some minor amount of money we are talking about,” Donahue said. “In 2019 I purchased two new vehicles. The extra 1% I was overcharged was about $622, but the county was cheated out of an equal amount of money. I can tell you that my wife shops online for almost everything other than food. All those purchases are being overtaxed and the money is going to Hemet instead of the county.”

Donahue said that another Sage resident bought a boat in Temecula. His 1% overcharge was about $688.

“We were able to get his money refunded, but it is not clear whether the 1% charged for local government was corrected and sent to the county or if it was paid to the city of Temecula. There are roughly 1,400 active addresses in Sage. If we use an average of $600 in extra sales tax being paid per household that would be $840,000 that Sage residents are being overcharged and an equal amount not going to the county. But that is the tip of the iceberg. None of the wineries are within the city of Temecula, but they all have Temecula ZIP codes. French Valley is not in the city of Temecula but all the homes and businesses there share Temecula ZIP codes. If all those sales tax dollars are being misdirected to Temecula as the CA Tax and Fee Department said is very possible the loss to the county in tax revenues could be in the tens of millions,” he said.

The STHA started looking into this issue because of the taxation without representation happening in Sage, but their investigation uncovered the much bigger problem.

“Our county supervisor is aware of the problem and his staff is looking for a solution,” Donahue said.

STHA was formed in 2017 by a group of citizens seeking to inform and advocate for residents and businesses within the communities of Sage and Diamond Valley in unincorporated Riverside County.

To learn more about the Sage Town Hall Association, visit them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sagetownhall.

Diane Sieker can be reached by email at dsieker@reedermedia.com.