County taxman offers tips, quips at La Jolla Town Council meeting
By Pat Sherman
San Diego County Treasurer/Tax Collector Dan McAllister was more than an hour late to his scheduled presentation during the Aug. 9 meeting of the La Jolla Town Council (due to an apparent misunderstanding with his scheduler, prompting a joke about people, in turn, paying their property taxes late). But that didn’t stop the La Jolla resident from jumping right in with pithy one-liners and a wealth of property tax information for those in attendance.
“I was born across the street at the old Scripps (hospital),” said McAllister, half-brother of legendary music producer, Kim Fowley. “I go to church across the street at La Jolla Presbyterian. This is my home, and it’s embarrassing when friends introduce me as ‘the late Dan McAllister.’ ”
McAllister acknowledged that he is not always the most popular person in town.
“That’s why I sit in the back in church over here, so I can slink down and not be recognized for what I do during the week,” he said, noting that his office sent 978,000 tax bills to property owners in San Diego County last September, a number that is down due to condominium projects downtown being converted to apartment rentals in the down economy.
However, McAllister said the real estate market is showing signs of recovery, particularly in areas like Coronado, La Jolla and Solana Beach, the latter of which had the highest increase in property values last year. “Things may stay on the market a little longer, but they’re still selling,” he said. “Countywide there are a third of the number of listings on the books than there were a year ago at this time. The supply is dwindling; the demand is still high — and therefore it is driving costs and prices up again.
“Certainly, the tax collector is happy when people sell for more than less.”
McAllister said that four years ago 226,000 people applied for an appeal of their property tax assessments, of which tax officials granted 216,000.
“With 21 percent of our tax base getting a discount, it meant a decrease of $50 million less the first year, and $48 million less the second year,” he said.
Questioned about the reassessment of Mitt Romney’s beachfront La Jolla home, which the Los Angles Times reported had saved the presidential candidate $111,000 in taxes, McAllister said the savings was actually much lower.
“I read (the story) three or four times to see what I was missing … but the body of the story suggests that he really saved about $20,000 or $25,000 in taxes, and he did what everybody else has a legal right to do. Everybody, twice a year, has a legal right to appeal their assessed valuations.”
The next deadline to appeal property tax assessments is Nov. 30. Applications can be filled out on the assessor’s website at arcc.co.san-diego.ca.us
McAllister suggested that before applying for a reassessment, taxpayers get comparables from a “sympathetic real estate agent” and consult zillow.com
“If you purchased property in the last five to six years there’s a good chance you’ll be entitled to a (tax) reduction,” he said.
San Diego County ended last year with a 98 percent collection rate — one of the highest rates statewide, McAllister said.
“Frankly, if everybody paid late we’d be happier because we’d make a lot more in late fees,” he said, noting that this isn’t happening because banks are ponying up, driving down delinquency rates.
“The banks and the lenders that have taken back properties in foreclosure … don’t want a tax blemish on a property that they ultimately will turn around and sell, so they race down to pay the taxes in a timely fashion.”
Banks also won’t challenge the assessed value of a property they are going to sell, McAllister said, because “in all likelihood they will learn that it’s worth a lot less than they made a loan for, and they would have to disclose that to prospective buyers.”
Property taxes can be paid online, using Visa, MasterCard, American Express or Discover Card.
However, McAllister said, despite a decline in people using their credit cards to pay property taxes (about 3 percent), credit card companies charge an “onerous” convenience fee of 1.88 percent to use their cards.
“They’re proposing to raise it to 2.5 per- cent or 3 percent,” he said. “If you think about it, 3 percent of $4.54 billion every year coming out of just one of 58 counties is a lot of excess revenue for Visa.
“We counsel people that if they can get a card with points (or) rewards, that’s probably the best way to charge their property tax.”
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