John G. Riley's article (Editorial Pages, April 19) implies that following Proposition 13 in 1978 county assessors should determine all decreases in property values and be prepared to enroll reductions, even if the owners of the property are unaware that their values have fallen.
While such a suggestion would rate applause in an ideal system of tax administration, it overlooks the practical limits of money and staff placed on the assessor's office at a time when the assessor is mandated by law to ferret out changes in ownership involving complicated corporate and partnership transactions, defend assessments before appeals boards, prepare the supplemental roll and maintain the annual roll.
As an officeholder whose service predates the 1978 Proposition 13, it is certainly my view that the public demanded that there be a reduction in the number of public employees, which has a consequent reduction in service. All 58 county assessors' offices in California took reductions in one form or another after 1978. I believe that the public generally feels that if a person knows that he has had a value reduction, it is his obligation to advise the assessor, in writing, in the early spring of the year so that the assessor can take whatever steps are necessary.
The law does require the assessor to advise property owners when an assessment has been increased, and, of course, each taxpayer or his agent gets notice of the value assigned to his or her property in the form of a property tax bill each November. To require an additional notice of suspected value declines or a statement of how value is to be calculated would increase the expense of government with no assurance that those who could be benefited would receive and understand the notice or would take the steps necessary to see the correct value is enrolled. It appears to me that more coverage of such problems in the news media would better serve the citizenry.
In effect, we have gone from a value system wherein government calculates property value to something more like a self-assessed income tax system for property taxes. Riley and other taxpayers who feel a reduction is in order should be aware of this change and take the initiative now.
Nevins is a member of the State Board of Equalization.