"Treating the Public Right" Assessment Appeals Fee Repealed

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                        
November 3, 2015

For More Information, Contact:
Gabe Carhart
(408) 299-5050 office
(650) 740-9399 cell
[email protected] 


SAN JOSE – Santa Clara County will no longer charge residents a fee for filing an appeal on their property assessment. The $40 fee was repealed at the Board of Supervisor’s November 3rd meeting at the urging of County Supervisor Joe Simitian.

Simitian’s primary goal, he said, was to “put an end to the County’s practice of charging a fee to appeal, and then keeping the fee even when the taxpayer prevailed.”

"It's a fundamental issue of fairness,” Simitian said. “Our Assessor's office does a great job assessing hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses in Santa Clara County. But from time to time, they're going to get it wrong. Charging a member of the public a $40 fee for the right to appeal, and then keeping the fee even after we acknowledge our error -- there's just no way to justify that. It's patently unfair to make a mistake, and then charge a member of the public who has to go to the time and trouble of getting us to correct it. That's just adding insult to injury."

Simitian first became aware of the issue when he was approached by a constituent at one of his "Sidewalk Office Hours" sessions in the community.​

"I remember the conversation well," Simitian said. "The gentleman I was talking to asked me, 'Are you aware there's a fee for an assessment appeal?' And I said, yes I was. And then he asked, 'Are you aware that the County keeps the fee, even when the County is wrong?' Frankly, I wasn't. So I came back to the office and started asking some questions."

Last year, 33% of all assessment appeals resulted in some form of adjustment, according to the annual report from the County Assessor’s office. At the September 10th County Finance and Government Operations Committee meeting, Simitian, who chairs the Committee, asked the County to bring forward a proposal to refund or eliminate the fee. It was an issue he’d been pushing for more than a year.

"Candidly, this has taken longer to resolve than I expected.  My original thought was that we simply ought to refund the fee whenever someone prevailed on their appeal. But there were concerns from some County staff that the administrative aggravation of processing the refunds would prove to be unduly burdensome. Let's just say I found that argument unpersuasive.”

 "Ultimately, the easiest solution turned out to be eliminating the fee altogether. That way, every resident has a right to make his case without paying a fee; which also, of course, means that no one who 'wins' the argument will have to pay a fee. And the County avoids the time, trouble and expense of collecting and processing the fee, or of refunding it.  That seemed to me to be both simpler and fairer. It’s a winner all around."

“In 2007 I testified to the Board of Supervisors in opposition to the creation of an assessment appeal filing fee and applaud action taken by County Supervisor Joe Simitian and the Board of Supervisors for eliminating the fee,” said Stone. “In 2007 I thought it was wrong for the County to charge a taxpayer a processing fee when ultimately the property owner’s opinion of value may be accurate.

The appraisal of real property is more an art than a science, and sometimes we do over assess property. My appraisers want to get it right,” Stone said. “Charging a property owner a fee for what ultimately may be a legitimate over assessment sends the wrong message. I opposed a fee in 2007 and I congratulate the Board of Supervisors for eliminating it.”

"I know the fee involved is relatively modest, but that's really not the point,” said Simitian. “I just couldn't countenance telling people: We fouled up, and now we're charging you to fix our error. It’s simply a question of treating the public right."



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