Escapes & Refunds
Because the job of the independently-elected Assessor is to be fair and equitable, the law provides a way for prior tax rolls to be corrected if an earlier assessed value was either too high or too low. Each year the Assessor delivers the completed assessment roll to the elected County Auditor who in turn applies the appropriate tax rates under Proposition 13 to create the tax roll with the correct tax amounts. The tax roll then goes to the elected County Treasurer-Tax Collector for collection. Once the Assessor delivers the assessment roll to the Auditor and it becomes the tax roll, only the Auditor can make changes to the roll upon the request of the Assessor. These changes are called roll corrections. In Napa County, the Assessor processes approximately 1800 roll corrections a year.
A roll correction which raises the value of the property in a prior year is called an “escaped” assessment and results in a new, additional tax amount which either causes an amended current tax bill or a new additional bill. If the value of the property is lowered for the prior year, the roll correction process generates a refund to the property owner which is either sent as a check, applied to current taxes due and payable or generates an amended, lower current tax bill. Before any action is taken on the roll correction, the law requires the Assessor to notify the property owner that there has been a change to a prior year value. If there has been an “escape” increase, the owner is given ten days to contact the Assessor if there are any questions. In the case of a refund, the correction goes directly to the Auditor for processing.
The most common reasons for correcting prior rolls are unreported changes of ownership (by deed or inheritance), field discovered improvements including construction done without a building permit, vineyard improvements reported annually, mandatory four-year audits of larger business property owners and late-filed homeowner exemptions. Less frequently roll corrections are generated for clerical errors that are discovered or for adjustments to value made from new information provided by the property owner. Assessment appeals can result in roll corrections if the local Assessment Appeals Board changes the value.
Depending on whether the change in value is caused by the error of the property owner such as incorrect reporting of business property or by the Assessor’s office such as a clerical error, interest at a rate set by law can either be charged on the additional tax amount or be payable on the amount refunded. There are also provisions which allow owners who receive prior year escape bills of more than $500.00 each to apply to the Tax Collector for a four-year payment plan.