Napa County supervisors want to hand the often complicated business of refereeing property tax assessment disputes and related issues to an appointed body.
No longer do they want to judge whether the county assessor overvalued a vineyard by more than $1.6 million, as in one recent case. No longer do they want to decide debates over hundreds of thousands of dollars in house values.
The five supervisors sit as the five members of the county Board of Equalization. They are taking steps to form an assessment appeals board to take over the job.
Among the proposed requirements to sit on the Napa County Assessment Appeals Board is five years experience in California as a public accountant, real estate broker, attorney or property appraiser with appropriate accreditation.
Supervisors Diane Dillon and Belia Ramos are attorneys. Otherwise, supervisors on the Board of Equalization lack these qualifications.
“This takes a special expertise that isn’t always up here,” Supervisor Ryan Gregory said.
Plus, convening as the Board of Equalization in the middle of a Board of Supervisors meeting, can make for a busy day. Sometimes trying to keep two meeting schedules on track proves to be a juggling act.
“It’s distracting,” Gregory said. “It takes a lot of time and it keeps us from other important business.”
On Jan. 23, supervisors convened as the Board of Equalization at 10 a.m. They were to hear a case involving, not taxes, but a late filing for change-of-legal-entity papers pertaining to downtown Napa properties. Only the Board of Equalization could waive the $32,000 penalty.
On behalf of the owners of the various First Street parcels, Todd Zapolski said he’d been trying to have a hearing for several months. But the crush of the Board of Supervisors agenda that day meant delaying the matter to the afternoon.
“This is how we’ve been tending to do Board of Equalization meetings, postponing them to the afternoon for the last year or two because of time constraints on our agenda,” Dillon said.
But Zapolski couldn’t attend in the afternoon.
“I would hope we could hear that matter and try to move on,” Zapolski said.
Supervisors needed to switch from being the Board of Equalization to being the Board of Supervisors to take care of county work. They delayed the hearing until Feb. 6, held it and took the matter under consideration.
On March 21, 2017, the Board of Equalization faced another time crunch because of the need for a Board of Supervisors closed session. It talked of delaying a hearing until the next meeting involving vintner Michael Parmenter and his house.
“We’ve been patient,” Parmenter told supervisors. “But our original hearing was almost two years ago, our original hearing date … So it’s become a bit of burden, just the fact we have to continue to go through this and continue to pay what we think is an excessive property tax.”
“The challenge is, we’re trying to manage an agenda,” Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza said. “We don’t know how many hearings we’re going to have. It’s very fluid.”
Parmenter stayed at the meeting and the Board of Equalization squeezed his case in.
Out of nine Bay Area counties, only Napa County has a board of equalization with county supervisors hearing the cases. The others have assessment appeals boards. Some of these counties face highly technical appeals cases involving such ventures as oil refineries and bio-tech facilities.
The Board of Supervisors on March 6 took the first step toward forming an assessment appeals board. Still to be worked out are such details as how much members will be paid, with $200 per meeting suggested.