The first thing a property owner should do if they do not understand or do not agree with a change in value to their property is to contact the assessor's office directly to discuss the matter. Given the recent stagnant real estate market, it may also be necessary to contact the assessor when there has not been a change in value, i.e. when the property owner feels that their value may have declined below the Proposition 13 factored base year value but no downward reduction in value has been made. As the elected assessor my job is to be fair, not to raise revenue. Our goal is that each property is to be valued at its correct value in relation to similar properties that have undergone a change in ownership, new construction or a decline in value at about the same time.
Deadlines & Protective Appeals
Since there are deadlines for filing appeals (July 2 to November 30 for the regular assessment roll or 60 days from the date of notice if a supplemental or escape assessment), we often recommend that the owner file a protective appeal pending our ability to review the value. During these reviews we often find that we can agree on an adjustment and, if a protective appeal has been filed, we then prepare a stipulation which is approved by the Board of Equalization and no hearing is held.
When, after a review, the property owner does not accept the rationale for our value change or we do not believe the additional information the property owner brings us justifies an adjustment to our initial value, we then recommend that the owner pursue the application for changed assessment (also known as an appeal) with our local Board of Equalization, the members of which, in Napa County, are the members of the Board of Supervisors. At the time of the hearing before the Board of Equalization we present the "defense" of our appraisal which we usually have shared with the property owner who also presents his or her case. The Board then decides whether to uphold our value, adopt the owner's requested value or set a value somewhere in between.
The Board also may have the right to raise the value our office had initially enrolled.
The hearings are informal and in most cases the applicant presents his or her own case without needing an attorney, a fee appraiser or any outside assistance. In the more complex appeals, the owner may be represented by an agent. If the owner wants to reserve his or her right to go to Superior Court (the next step beyond our local Board of Equalization), the owner, prior to the commencement of the hearing, must request Findings of Fact, which set forth the reasons for the Board's decision. There is a fee for preparation of findings.
If a stipulation is agreed to, or if the Board establishes a value other than the one initially enrolled by the Assessor, we then prepare roll correction(s) which usually result in lower values and either a reduced tax bill or a refund if the taxes have all been paid. The fact that an appeal is pending does not relieve the owner of the obligation of paying all taxes on the appropriate due dates.
If you have questions on this topic please contact Napa County Assessor John Tuteur at 707-253-4459 or email John Tuteur