Tax Man Cometh! Dan McAllister speaks at La Jolla Community Center

By Ashley Mackin

On tax day, April 15, San Diego County Treasurer/Tax Collector Dan McAllister addressed guests at the La Jolla Community Center as part of its Distinguished Speakers Series. He came to discuss the county’s property tax situation, and how census data and school bonds play a part.

“We are moving in a great direction, and that is up,” McAllister said. “Not only are there new building permits being issued, more than in the last few years, and not only are there more repurposing (efforts) to increase property values, but we see hard numbers coming from the Assessors Office saying that last year, countywide, the market was up 3 percent.”

He added, “You should all look at this as (if you are the) beneficiaries because those tax dollars come right back to work. They come back to work in La Jolla and all 18 cities of the county ... in a variety of ways.”

Last year, McAllister’s staff sent out 981,000 property tax bills to San Diego County property owners, which is up almost 2,000 from the previous year. He attributes the rise to an increase in the number of taxable parcels in San Diego.

McAllister — who grew up in La Jolla but now resides in Pacific Beach — boasts that his office has a 98.6 percent collection rate, which is the second highest in Southern California (behind Orange County).

Several factors, including adapting to changes in Census data, contribute to the high collection rate.

In 1960, census numbers revealed that 90-95 percent of the San Diego population was white. Since then, increases in other racial groups caused a change in the population makeup of San Diego.

“We’re gaining new bodies and new permanent residents from all over the world. But from our standpoint, our job is to collect taxes, and we have to figure out how to reach people who don’t necessarily speak English as a first or even second language,” he said.

As an example, he said in 2002, when he was first elected, “Sixty percent of calls to our South Bay office came from property owners speaking Spanish, but we didn’t have one person who could speak Spanish in that office.” Now, he said 16 different languages are spoken at his workplace.

McAllister said this is relevant because there are more home buyers from countries, such as China coming to La Jolla and Rancho Santa Fe than ever before.

McAllister also explained the efforts his office made to minimize debt imposed on future generations, namely, supporting adjustments to the terms of school bonds and getting them signed into law.

He referenced one school district in Southern California that issued bonds with a 10-1 payback ratio (most 30-year mortgages, he noted, have a 2.5-1 payback ratio) to be paid back over 40 years. However, it was written into the bond that nothing is owed for the first 20 years, which McAllister said would place the burden of repayment on “our grandkids or their grandkids.”

Upon further investigation, he determined that 600 school districts in California were issuing high-ratio bonds between 2007-2012. When bonds are issued, taxpayers are responsible for paying them back through tax increases.

Further, the legal council with which his office consulted, said when it came time to pay back these bonds, the county would have the right to increase taxes without a vote of the people if there’s not enough money coming in to pay off the debt.

That’s why when legislators proposed changes to the bond system, McAllister said he supported them and testified to their potential success.

On Jan. 1, changes were signed into law such as a 25-year maximum on payback deadlines, 4-1 payback ratios and the new requirement of two public hearings if schools would like to issue large bonds.

Additionally, it was written into the bill that all bond issues in the future have “call-ability,” so they can be refunded or refinanced within the life of the bond.

McAllister said he speaks to some 150 groups each year to educate the public about what his office does.

Of his visit, Community Center Director Nancy Walters said, “I felt having Dan speak in tax season — let alone tax day — was a great opportunity for our members ... Having him here also allowed people to ask the questions we all ask ourselves year round. ... He was extremely interesting and entertaining to listen to.”

Next Speaker:

U.S. Congressman Scott Peters of La Jolla will discuss the D.C. scene with guests at the next Distinguished Speakers Series, 6 p.m. Thursday, May 15 at the La Jolla Community Center, 6811 La Jolla Blvd. Free. (858) 459-0831.