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New Surge in Bids to Reduce Property Values : Government: Appeals to county assessor in July were 2 1/2 times greater than last year. Oil companies and B of A have filed hundreds.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Despite sparks of life in the real estate market, Ventura County homeowners and businesses are still requesting cuts in their property values and filing appeals at a record-setting pace.

The county assessor received nearly 2,000 requests to lower taxable values in the first month after mailing out assessments in July--2 1/2 times the number received in the same period a year ago, records show.

And property owners still have until Sept. 15 to submit their appeals.

The big surge this year comes from oil companies, which are filing literally hundreds of appeals on land that the county is taxing for the first time in a decade.

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Also, the Bank of America filed 515 appeals on a single development, Simi Valley’s troubled Wood Ranch. The developer, facing a $59-million debt at the bank, deeded over 529 parcels to the bank.

The bank claims that the assessor has overvalued the parcels, nearly all of which are vacant lots.

Still, the largest share of appeals comes from home and business owners, who watched the values of their properties drop as the economy stalled. Even though sales have picked up in recent months, the prices have not begun to rebound, economists say.

The county assessor’s office unilaterally reduced the value on 54,000 properties in July, but faced requests for lower assessments from 807 property owners by mid-August. That figure is up 15% from the same time last year.

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“It’s going to place a tremendous burden on us,” said Assessor Glenn Gray. “We’ve got to spread our work force out for all these things.”

And his work force is becoming smaller.

The county Board of Supervisors just cut 17 workers, including seven property appraisers, from the assessor’s staff. Overall, the office has lost 53 jobs in the last four years and now has fewer than 100 employees.

At the same time, their workload is increasing.

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The sluggish real estate market has prompted more and more assessment appeals, climbing from 730 in the 1989-90 tax year to 4,100 in the fiscal year that ended June 30. The bulk of the appeals come in the two months after assessments are mailed out in July. But the office performs supplemental assessments--and fields appeals on them--any time during the year when a property changes hands.

Gray said his office still has a backlog of 2,600 cases from last year. On top of that, the Jan. 17 earthquake brought in 3,700 requests to lower tax values on damaged property. Gray’s staff has finished about 1,000 of those cases.

And the staff is up against a deadline. If appeals are not resolved within two years, the property owners automatically receive lower assessments.

The county has set up a second Assessment Appeals Board to decide the most contentious of the cases. But many will be resolved through negotiation.

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That is what many of the oil companies say they intend to do.

For the past 10 years, the state Board of Equalization assessed the tax value on parcels of land used for oil pipeline rights of way.

But oil companies filed suit, arguing that the counties, not the state, should assess the property. Unlike the state, the county assessors are governed by Proposition 13 and its strict limits on increasing property values.

The oil companies won their lawsuit and are now in negotiations with 23 counties over how to assess the land, which has been off the county rolls for a decade.

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The July assessment date arrived before Ventura and other counties had completed these negotiations. Rather than accept the assessors’ best guess, oil companies are appealing assessments on every parcel. That way they can keep the tax value open while negotiations continue, said Dick Fishman, associate general counsel for Unocal.

“What we really hope to do is to sit down and work out something reasonable,” Fishman said.

The single largest filing thus far comes from the Bank of America, which filed claims on almost all of the 529 parcels it received in repayment of an overdue debt.

“They’re saying the value we’ve put on it is too high,” Gray said. “That is their right.”

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In the early 1980s, Wood Ranch developers promised 4,000 homes, a shopping center, a community park and a school at the Simi Valley site. By the 1990s, the Olympia/Roberts partnership had built 2,400 homes and was still working on the park and the shopping center.

Rather than build the school, the firm last year turned 1,800 acres over to the school district. It gave other land and buildings to the bank.

FYI

Home and business owners dissatisfied with their 1994-95 property assessment have until Sept. 15 to file appeals with the county Assessment Appeals Board. Contact the County Clerk and Recorder, 800 S. Victoria Ave., Ventura 93009. (805) 654-2251. Also, the county will sponsor a public workshop on property assessments at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the East County Courthouse, 3855-F Alamo St., Simi Valley. Assessor Glen Gray will attend. Info: 582-8010.

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Assessment Appeals

(As of mid-August)

1993 1994 Regular 701 807 Supplemental 65 569 Roll corrections 48 608 Total 814 1,984

Source: Ventura County assessor’s office

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