County tax officials are clearing the air on how much property owners will owe on real estate that was significantly damaged or reduced to ashes in the massive fires that have been tearing through Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino and Lake counties this month.
Sonoma County residents will not have file calamity-claim forms to receive a property-tax reduction due to recent wildfire damage, Assessor Bill Rousseau announced Tuesday. To qualify for the adjustment, property damage must total at least $10,000.
“Right now we are in the quantification mode,” Rousseau said. “We have already received 80 percent of the information available — with more data coming in every day — showing which homes have been destroyed or partially damaged based on aerial community overlays as well as on reports and photos submitted by sheriff deputies on the ground. We are dedicating two people to work on each major community impacted by these fires.”
Calamity-claim forms are required to start the property-tax-adjustment process in Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties.
Over 100 claim forms already have been received so far at the Napa County local assistance center, at 2741 Napa Valley Corporate Drive in south Napa, according to John Tuteur, assessor, recorder and county clerk. The form is available online (countyofnapa.org/calamity). He's also emailing out tax-deferral checklists (John.Tuteur@countyofnapa.org).
Lake County is offering deferral of the first property-tax payment a month’s relief from the established tax-payment deadline, according to Assessor Richard Ford. The form for doing that is posted on the Assessor’s Office website (www.co.lake.ca.us/assessor-recorder/assessorforms, “property damage, reassessment of damaged property application”).
In Mendocino County, Assessor and County Clerk Susan M. Ranochak said they have created their own property-damage form (www.mendocinocounty.org/propertydamageform), which is available online and will be mailed with tax bills going out next week.
For property damage Sonoma County officials can't cannot verify remotely, field appraisers will be sent to document the extent of the property damage and to determine the amount of tax reduction.
“We are working with our IT people, who are developing a new computer program to incorporate the necessary adjustments,” Rousseau said.
Hypothetically, if the property was purchased for $250,000 in 2016 — $50,000 for the land and $200,000 for the home — and this structure was totally burned, the $200,000 amount would be eliminated and the owner would pay county tax on $50,000, according to the Sonoma County Assessor’s Office.
This temporary reduction remains in effect until the home is rebuilt. The reinstated land and home value will be as before, if the rebuilt home has the same square footage as the original prior to the fire.
He said for completely burned buildings, the total value of the structure will come off the tax rolls. The Proposition 13–factored base-year value of the property will be reduced as of the date of the damage or destruction to reflect the percentage of damage the property suffered.
The resulting lower tax bill would reflect the 1 percent Prop. 13 assessor’s value, as well as any ad valorem — based on assessed value — amounts for items such as school bonds. Rousseau said his office will be working with agencies to discuss local parcel taxes, mosquito abatement fees, etc., based on the new valuations.
“Tax bills have already been sent to property owners,” he said. “If anyone has not yet paid, wait for the corrected bill to come in the mail. If you have just paid, you can stop payment on the check, or if your check has already been deposited, you will receive a refund for the difference.”
Rousseau said many in the Assessor’s Office, himself included, were evacuated, and some have lost property.
“Our hearts go out to those who have been personally affected by this crisis,” he said. “If you lost homes, we will take care of you. Please be patient with us during the recovery and rebuilding process.”
This story has been updated with information from Napa, Lake and Mendocino county assessors.