Landowners can file tax complaints
Nevada County supervisors didn’t promise refunds to the group of property owners that nearly filled the board’s chambers Tuesday with claims they’ve been overtaxed by the Assessor’s Office.
But they did, for now, direct Assessor Dale Flippin, Treasurer-Tax Collector E. Christina Dabis and County Counsel Charles McKee to create a form so property owners can at least state their objections and have a voice in the matter.
“The important thing that happened today is, the board decided they can’t bury this,” said Mike Lasich, a real estate attorney representing more than 50 property owners who feel they’ve been assessed beyond the 2 percent yearly limit allowed by law.
“There’s just too many unhappy taxpayers and their arguments are just too good,” Lasich said.
Proposition 13 – California’s landmark property tax reform measure passed by voters in 1978 – limited property tax increases to 2 percent a year.
But some Nevada County property owners claim their property tax bills have gone up from 15 to 35 percent this year.
Flippin said his office has properly applied the tax code through the same method of assessment used by every county in the state.
That method of recapturing tax revenues on property that loses value during years when the real estate market is down is being challenged in Orange County, however, where a Superior Court judge ruled it unconstitutional.
Flippin acknowledged Tuesday that there’s a lot of talk about the Orange County case.
But it’s just one decision regarding one property owner made by one lower court judge in Orange County, Flippin said. “It doesn’t change constitutional law.”
If the tax laws do change, then, Flippin said, the Assessor’s Office will change its method of assessment.
“But it will be a political fireball because of the lost revenues to schools,” he said.
Of the more than $100 million the county collects in property taxes each year, 59 percent goes to schools, 14.5 percent goes in the county’s discretionary fund and the rest goes to the cities of Grass Valley and Nevada City, the town of Truckee and the county’s special districts.
Dabis said the Orange County case could be appealed or legislation could be passed that specifies a different method of assessment.
But in the meantime, Dabis said, the form requested by the supervisors will give property owners a chance to voice their opinion about the assessed value of their property.
“That’s really the best we can do until the dust settles and we see where the case in Orange County goes,” Dabis said.
Dabis said the form will be developed and posted on the tax collector’s Web site by the end of March.
Lasich said the property owners he represents are happy to pay their fair share to support the county’s tax base and fund schools.
“Some are paying $5,000 a year just for property taxes,” Lasich said. “These are not people that want to shirk their responsibility. They just want to be treated fair and square.”
He said some property owners are afraid that if they file an appeal or protest their property tax, the Assessor’s Office will send someone out “to go through every nook and cranny of their home and find a reason to raise their taxes anyhow.”
But Lasich said it’s his personal opinion that Flippin is a “straight shooter” and wants to do the right thing.
“All we have to do is figure out what the right thing is,” Lasich said. “There’s something wrong when people get their taxes raised 15, 20, 25, up to 36 percent.”
Lasich said he expects refunds eventually.
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