Enrolling Accurate Values
The primary job of the assessor is to enroll fair and accurate real and personal property values for property tax purposes. Real property includes land, structures and vineyards. Personal property consists of business equipment, aircraft and vessels. Accurate appraisal of all types of property requires a flow of information between property owners and assessor staff. Unlike most public officials, the assessor is given specific authorization by State law to keep information obtained from property owners strictly confidential.
The Flow of Information
The assessor uses several approaches to gather information. Our State-certified real property appraisers and personal property auditor-appraisers make frequent phone calls and personal contacts with property owners and their representatives. Personal contacts can include visits by field appraisers to review the condition of the property at the time of a transfer, to measure and obtain finish details on new construction, and to examine the condition and quantity of business equipment. After a value has been enrolled, we encourage property owners to contact us if there are any questions about the enrolled value so that we can obtain further information if warranted.
The assessor also sends out a number of forms for property owners to complete. In the real property division, the most frequently used forms are Change of Ownership statements, vine reports, California Land Conservation (Williamson) Act questionnaires, income and expense statements for income property, decedent letters inquiring as to the heirs to real property in an estate, New Construction and Yard Improvement questionnaires, and inquiries to legal entities as to changes in proportional interests in the entity.
The information compiled from these questionnaires enables the appraisal staff to determine whether a reappraisal is required under Proposition 13. If a reappraisal is required, the information also allows the appraiser to make value judgments based on the true condition of the property. We also ask for the telephone number or email address of the person reporting so that we can follow up with a personal contact if a response needs clarification.
Personal property owners are asked to fill out agricultural and business property statements, aircraft owner's reports and vessel reports. The information gathered from these statements is the basis for determining the value of the property reported as of January 1 of each year. It is important for property owners to take as much time as necessary to complete these forms accurately, as omissions or mistakes can result in higher property taxes.
Business Property and Equipment
Business property is valued using acquisition cost to which a factor is applied. Reporting the wrong year of acquisition or failing to report equipment disposals can result in more taxes being paid than are required. Aircraft and vessel owners need to inform us if their property has been sold or damaged so that we can either remove the assessment or adjust it. As an example, reporting the correct engine hours for an aircraft can result in a change in value.