Saturday, September 23, 2023

Cash-Strapped and Seeking New Revenue, Mendocino County Sends Supplemental Property Tax Bills to Thousands of Local Homeowners

Mendocino County Seal Featured
[Stock photo by Matt LaFever]

Mendocino County, grappling with a significant setback in revenue generation, finds itself in a challenging battle to collect property taxes as Supervisor Ted Williams raises concerns over the staggering number of un-assessed properties. With an estimated thirty percent of properties flying under the radar, Williams has urged his fellow officials to embark on an ambitious mission, aiming to slash this figure by fifty percent within the next two years.

As the fiscal year draws to a close, labor, private citizens and elected officials in Mendocino County are trying to figure out how to bring in more revenue to balance next year’s budget. This year’s $420 million county budget was balanced using $7 million in one-time funds, but a few significant factors remain unknown. Jack Buckhorn, the Executive Director of the North Bay  Labor Council, spoke during last week’s Board of Supervisors meeting, saying he thinks the problem is pervasive. “There’s a systemic problem with your Board when you do not have a balance sheet,” he opined. “How can you run a government, when you do not know where your assets are?”

The county is playing catch-up when it comes to collecting property taxes. Union negotiators claim this is the missing revenue that could go towards paying them the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA), which was not included in this year’s budget. The county has sent out about six thousand supplemental tax bills and escape assessments, asking people to pay taxes on the changed value of their property. Some of them make up for years of missed reassessments. If the supplemental bills are not sent out within four years of the property increasing in value, the county loses that revenue. Taxpayers experiencing sticker shock from bills for years of back taxes have until the end of this week to arrange a payment plan with the tax collector’s office. 

Meanwhile, Adam Gaska of Redwood Valley said he’s tracked down a number of properties that have been under-assessed and owe hundreds of thousands of dollars in back taxes. He said he used a program called Parcel Viewer, which is also used by the county, to put together the values of various parcels, who owns them, and what their tax bill is. “Some properties are about five years in arrears,” he said, adding that he’s tallied up about $750,000 in back taxes alone. One batch, according to his calculations, is owed by one individual operating under several different legal entities, while another is unpaid by a business composed of several different people.

Treasurer Tax Collector Auditor Controller Chamisse Cubbison disputed Gaska’s analysis. “They are not delinquent,” she declared. “They are not even due yet. They are not actually payable until June 30. In some cases there may be more than one installment. So I’d like to be careful about people perhaps not understanding how property taxes work, the amount of time allowed for collections, and that we don’t make examples of people who are not late on their taxes at this point.” She said staff has analyzed one of Gaska’s spreadsheets, and found one parcel that might be eligible for the county to sell off to settle a tax bill, but that would not be until next year.

Supervisor Ted Williams estimates that about thirty percent of the county’s properties are un-assessed, and challenged his colleagues to cut that in half over the next two years. “I would like to set a stretch goal of bringing the county up to date on assessing properties,” he proposed during discussion about the consent calendar on June 20. “Closing the gap by 50 percent, moving from about 70 percent assessment to 85 percent, over 24 months.” The Board agreed to ask for regular updates on the assessment effort in the CEO report. 

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There are a few impediments, according to Assessor Clerk Recorder Katrina Bartolomie. Her office is still not back up to pre-pandemic staffing levels, though her department is trying to hire four more people. She said in an interview that she currently has seven appraisers, not counting herself, plus an assistant who also works in administration. Her office is one of the key revenue-generating departments that’s converting to a software system called Aumentum, which went live during the pandemic. She says the system generates a lot of time-consuming errors, like mis-calculating the number of structures on a property.

“Ultimately, they purchased a concept that needed to be built for each particular county,” she reflected; “and that concept is still being built.” She added that, though the people who work for Aumentum are helpful, “There’s a lot of times where we don’t know how to do something. It’s bombed, and they don’t know how to do it either. It’s maddening.”

Bartolomie says that appraisals, which are regulated by the state Board of Equalization, rely on a combination of guesswork and granular detail. “Whether it’s sitting on a slab, or it’s a foundation. Anything you can imagine. If it has dual paned windows or single paned windows.” Appraisers also cannot go onto property without the owner’s permission. If they can’t get in touch with the owner, “We’ll estimate what it is. And then hope that the owner calls us and says, how come you’re assessing us? Well, we had to do something, but you tell us what you have, and maybe we can come out and look at it. We’re very happy to change that.”

Gaska, who is running for First District Supervisor, favors taking a hard line. “First off, for this one particular individual, because I am pretty sure that they have more projects that are in the pipeline, that they should do something similar like they did with cannabis growers,” he said, referring to a policy initiated by former Cannabis Department Director Kristin Nevedal, who deprioritized applicants who had not paid their taxes. “If possible, even if they have conditional permits, just suspend them. Whatever business they’re doing in Mendocino County, just stop it. Until they pay.”

While Bartolimie doesn’t have a way of making people submit to an appraisal, she said she’s noticed, anecdotally, that, “Many of those properties, once they get that notice that their land is going to be sold for back taxes, they pay their taxes.”

People who received large bills for back taxes have until the end of the fiscal year, which is June 30, to make other arrangements. “You need to contact the tax collector’s office to see about arranging payment,” Bartolomie urged. “And you need to do that sooner rather than later. Don’t wait.”

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  1. County government is coming for your money so that the county government can survive. Do you think they care about you?

  2. Regarding property assessments- real estate prices are down so if anything they should be re-assessed and lessened and the county should be giving us some of our property tax money back.

    • Many of these tax bills going out are from 2019-2020 & 2020-2021 so don’t count on it. Perhaps when they get caught up in 2025 your tax bills may adjust to the value drops in 2023. It really depends on the property and area.

  3. HMMM!!! And now we finally hear from Katrina, who kisses Bowtie Ted’s backside!!!! In return, Bowtie never brings her office up in any discussions. By the way, this was the first combined office nearly 20 years ago, it has been failing every since. They seemed to be more worried about elections and treat the Accessors side like a red headed step child. The real reason supplemental bills are late, they are behind on recording when a house sells, only about 2 years behind. You see if the Board of Stupid would have done their homework when discussing combining the Treasurer/Tax Collector and Auditor/Controller and looked at the other and only combined office the answer was clear, it’s been a massive fail. Under the direction of Marcia Wharf, Sue Ranochak and Katrina, they have all had a hand in the failure of this office.

    You see but Bowtie had an agenda, he wants control of the finances and he doesn’t like Ms. Cubbison. The right thing for us to do is send Ted packing, Gjerde and McGourty like true cowards did our job for us. These people along with Photo-Op Mo are solely responsible for the County’s problems.

    • You partially correct and partially incorrect. The Assessors Office is behind by two years and in some places more than 4 years behind depending on region of the county. The property tax office is sorely in need of competent staffing and leadership to keep the county budgets paid and continue tax revenue for infrastructure needs. It has been understaffed and underfunded for many years. In 2019 an appraiser position paid $18 an hour so no surprise why no one was applying for this position and tax bills weren’t going out. The combining of the offices has little to do with the failures you speak of in your comment. The recession of 2008 did most of the damage this office currently suffers from. The county BOS and CEO slashed wages (in 2010) not to mentions many retirements took place and only in the last 3 years have they brought the wages back to being close to competitive. You made more money (and put up with less headache) as a Cannabis farmer or In-n-Out employee than you did being an appraiser for the County. The new tax software system also plagues this office as it does the Auditors and tax collectors office. The Assessor’s office needs a full time IT employee to help facilitate the tech needs in the office. This office also lacked technology which would make this office 10X more efficient in day to day processes. The lack of tech savvy staff and forward thinking leadership holds this place back and therefore holds back the funding of the much need tax revenue.

      • Good try, but you are wrong. The TreasurerTax Collecter collects taxes from information that the Accessor’s Office sends them. If Accessor is 2 and 4 years behind than the Tax Collector never receives the paperwork. Which is exactly the issue here. Now, who pays the bills, the Auditor/Controller not the Tax Collector/Teasurer. The Tax Collector/Treasurer collects taxes from information provided to them and monitors the treasury. Basically that office acts as the bank for the County. While Shari Schapmire was running this office it was regarded as the most efficient and well run office. By the way, she predicted this would happen, the Accessor Office has flown under the radar for years and is a big issue when it comes to supplemental bills, do not buy that the new system is to blame. Prior to the new system these problems existed.

        • By the way, tax bills have always gone out. I’m sure everyone who owns property knows this because they are reminded of it twice a year. What has not gone out is the updated tax bill or newly assessed bill, which means I could purchase a house for $500,000, if the Accessor doesn’t adjust the value, then my tax bill is whatever the previous owner bought the house at. That could have been $100,000. Which means when they do catch up, I get a huge Supplemental Tax Bill that most people aren’t prepared for.

          • There are reoccurring tax bills on which are automated to adjust under Prop 13 ordinance. These come twice a year. Those are the easy bills and not the problem children. The large volumes of supps and escapes are due to excessive delays in the Mendocino’s Taxation process. After four years the county has to write off those oldest escapes which hurts the budget. It is nonsense to be getting a supp with three escape tax bills because of the county’s byzantine assessment processes. I would keep a large reserve in your bank account if anyone has bought property in Mendo in the last three or four years and hasn’t received a Supp. Just FYI

        • Everything I said was correct. I worked in the Assessor’s office for a few years, so I’m well aware of the tax processing system. Your comment about (“The real reason supplemental bills are late, they are behind on recording when a house sells, only about 2 years behind. You see if the Board of Stupid would have done their homework when discussing combining the Treasurer/Tax Collector and Auditor/Controller and looked at the other and only combined office the answer was clear, it’s been a massive fail. “) is not quite accurate.

          Recordings are the first things done in that office when a property sells. Its the assessment process is where all the delays happen which is the appraisal portion of the taxation process. Then Auditor then tax collector. All the tax collector does is send out the bills and collects the tax revenue based on the valuations of the Assessment. Most of the delays in the tax billing process are mixed between the slow appraising process and the auditors office. The new software system information transfer done in 2020 was botched between the old cobalt system and the new Aumentum system. It is a mess for all those tax revenue depts. Prior to that Aumentum system (pre 2020) the tax bills were delayed because of poor staffing retention and poor mgmt which still plague the assessor’s office and the other tax revenue offices. The Tax collector is the tail end of the process but if the Assessor’s isn’t producing new values based on new sales and/or construction permits than the tax collector doesn’t send out any bills and no one complains. :D…

            • You’re the one who said “the property tax office is sorely in need of competent staffing and leadership” this implies the Tax Collector. Maybe you meant the Accessor Office, which I agree with.

              • Sorry, my mistake; I meant the Assessor. I tend to speak as if the Assessor , Auditor and Tax collector are really all part of the process in taxation so I get lazy and say property tax offices.

  4. A historical problem with the Assessor. The computer system is a convenient excuse that is worn out. It was true and relevant but no more.

    The Assessor values properties, if not done, then the Auditor can’t assign values and the Tax Collector can’t bill and collect. In this case the dog (Assessor) wags the tail, not the tail (Auditor-TTC) wagging the dog. How many property tax bill corrections or supplemental bill values are “written off” by the Assessor because not valued in time to bill? Are these lost valuations in the record or just ignored so not traceable? How much money is lost to schools and the County because of it?

    The Assessor’s office has hard working staff that are killing themselves. Let’s face it, the Assessor can’t fill positions because leadership is bad and known county wide to be a hostile environment. They can blame pay but when raised (twice), still no takers. Now they blame housing. It’s a circle blame game to throw out excuses and see what sticks. When will they look at the Assessor herself and the legacy of that department? A cultural change needs to come to the Assessors office. Why is Ranochak still putting stickers on folders after her fat retirement? What is her hourly wage? Are we paying her in extra help at the wage she was paid as an elected?Does she still control the department, if even with her presence. Why is staff afraid of their department head and past department head? The mask they show you is not their face!

    • I agree 💯 . The Chief Appraiser, Assistant Assessor, and Assessor are in a mean girls club. They all lie 🤥 to staff and to the public and cause the revolving door of employee attrition. Unfortunately this is an elected office and someone would need to unseat the assessor via an election.

      • You sound like a very disgruntled employee – why should we listen to your tainted words….? The Assessor’s office has been very helpful when I have questions! They all seem to work well together, maybe, just maybe, YOU WERE THE PROBLEM???

        • I can give you the names of all the people who quit in the time I was there and some were former appraisers from other countries. Take a look at the turnover rates in the assessor’s office before you may suggestive accusations.

        • My responses are targeted at BOS and actual Clerk Recorder/Accessor. The employees are not the issue, they are hard working and professional. This office is lucky to have Tonya Mounts!!! Without her it would be a disaster. Many thanks to the employees who deal with the public, it can be trying.

          • I think the working staff are regularly overworked and have less than the necessary tools to get the job done. I’m not going to call out names, but the leadership bodies are silent or put their heads under rocks when clear complaints are conveyed to them. They all have known each other too long to hold each other accountable.

    • Four years is the Statue of limitations from the BOE, so it is codified in ordinance that the Assessors office can only go back four years for value assessments. They can go back 8 years if it is the tax payer who was fraudulent or deceitful. This occurs in Mendo but rarely gets enforced.

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Sarah Reith
Sarah Reith
Sarah Reith is a radio and print reporter working in Mendocino and Humboldt counties, focusing on local politics and environmental news.

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