Residents Hand Over Taxes--and Views on County


As county officials grapple with ways to fix a looming $5-million budget shortfall, some homeowners lined up at the County Government Center on Wednesday to pay property taxes--and vent frustrations about how their dollars are being spent.

“It’s typical of any big government,” said 64-year-old Charlean Wakefield of Camarillo. “They don’t always make wise decisions. But then, we can always make changes with our supervisors if they’re not using our money appropriately.”

Friday is the deadline for Ventura County residents to pay property taxes--something an estimated 40% of homeowners have already done. An additional 50% will pay up by Friday, officials said.


With every dollar paid out, 18 cents goes toward the county’s general fund.

But some of those queued up to beat the deadline were either unaware of the county’s desperate straits or said it didn’t matter much.

“What’s the alternative?” said another man waiting patiently for his turn at the county tax collector’s counter. “Not pay? Then they’ll put you in jail.”

Assistant Tax Collector Lawrence Matheney stopped to chat with many of those in line, even passing out a few chocolates to help keep the peace. Most people, he said, didn’t seem too upset with county officials.

“I’ve had only one taxpayer bring up the front-page problems so far,” Matheney said. “People are mostly in a good mood. If I gave you a chocolate, you’d be in a good mood, too.”

Tax Collector Hal Pittman credited Proposition 13 with keeping tempers from flaring too high among property owners. The 1978 state constitutional amendment severely limits the ability to hike property taxes, even in times of financial hardship for the county.

“In the old days, when the county got into a bind, property taxes went up,” Pittman said. “But now, they know their taxes aren’t going to go up or down.’


Anyway, he added, most also realize that there’s no avoiding it.

“Regardless of the county’s situation, people know there’s no escaping death and taxes,” Pittman said.

Still, others expressed dissatisfaction with the county, even as they acknowledged a responsibility to pay their taxes.

“There are obligations that have to be met, programs that need to be funded, schools that need money,” said Kathy Castorina of Santa Paula. “I know that. I don’t mind paying property taxes. . . . But we better do an audit to find out where all this money is going.”

Like many residents, Castorina said she is struggling to understand why a county as prosperous as this one might have to slash services and staff to meet the bottom line.

“Why is there a shortfall?” Castorina said shortly after handing over her check to the tax collector’s office. “I was under the impression this county had a lot of tax base to draw from. How could this happen?”

But she said she also applauded the move of the county’s short-lived chief administrative officer, David L. Baker. He quit Nov. 29 after only four days on the job, leaving in his wake a six-page resignation letter that outlined apparent organizational and financial chaos within the county.


“He walked in and saw he couldn’t handle their problems and walked away,” Castorina said. “I think it’s great. I mean, they handed him the whole ball of wax with a heat lamp.”