Wrongly Charged Landowners Will Get New Tax Bills

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles County will lower taxes by nearly $1 million for some property owners living in remote areas who were incorrectly charged increases ranging from several hundred dollars up to $54,000 to raise money for parks, officials announced Tuesday.

New bills will be mailed out by the end of the month to the 500 taxpayers whose bills increased by more than $119 apiece under a new park district assessment that will generate $48 million a year for refurbishment of parks and recreation facilities.

Previously, county officials said the property owners would have to pay the first installment by Dec. 10 or be subject to penalties.

The tax adjustment does not apply to 400 other property owners whose bills increased by $119 or less. They will still have to pay the first installment of their taxes by the Dec. 10 deadline, although their bills may eventually be lowered, said Curt Robertson, administrator of the county's Regional Park and Open Space District.

"We had to take care of the most egregious errors first," said Rodney Cooper, director of the county Department of Parks and Recreation. "We don't see that paying $119 is going to put anyone in the poorhouse."

The announcement came as a relief to property owners in the Antelope Valley and other outlying areas who complained about the increases.

"You mean I won't have to send in the money? That's great," said Trula Parsons, a retired bookkeeper who lives in a home on 40 acres in the Antelope Valley and was incorrectly billed $884.59--$765.81 too much. "I just couldn't see paying for their mistake, even if I got the money back later."

The mistakes, which apply to only a fraction of the 2.25 million parcels of land in the county, occurred because the tax rolls contained incorrect information that led officials to believe that more of the land was improved than was actually the case, Robertson said.

For example, a person who has a single-family house on 40 acres is supposed to be assessed only $118.78--a fee for the house and no more than five acres of the land, if the rest of the land is vacant.

But in Parsons' case, she was incorrectly charged $21.88 for each of her 40 acres, plus $9.39 for her house, because the tax rolls stated that the entire parcel was improved, Robertson said.

The assessment is the product of Proposition A, which voters approved overwhelmingly in November, 1992. It created a $540-million assessment district aimed at improving parks and beaches, acquiring open space, constructing recreation facilities for young people and senior citizens and preventing graffiti.

Supervisor Mike Antonovich, whose Fifth District offices were inundated with complaints from irate and confused property owners, was instrumental in getting county officials to conduct field inspections to clear up the problem. Despite reduced tax bills, Antonovich said Tuesday that north county residents remain unhappy with Proposition A because it imposes an unfair burden on them.

The tax is based on the amount and use of the land, not the value of the property or improvements. Consequently, someone who owns a mansion in Beverly Hills on one acre pays $31.27, less than the $118.78 owed by an Antelope Valley resident who owns a house on five acres, Antonovich said. "What I've got is worth a lot less than in Beverly Hills, but I have to pay more," said Candace LePage, who lives with her retired husband on five acres in the Antelope Valley north of Pearblossom.

"I think if they want a park in Los Angeles, they should tax the people who would use the park, not us," she said.

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