Changes coming to tax bill after ABC7 investigation

September 9, 2011 8:21:57 PM PDT
How can someone be delinquent on their property taxes for three years and not know it?

Part of the answer to that question is leading to changes in the tax bills Alameda County sends out. The changes come after ABC7 brought to the county's attention concerns expressed by a 7 On Your Side viewer. It's a problem she believes cost her several thousand dollars.

Erika Chiostri paid her property tax in 2008 online. She had a credit card statement as proof of her payment, but there was one problem: The payment was never credited to her account.

"I received a notice from my mortgage company that they showed I had unpaid taxes with Alameda County," Chiostri said.

Over the next 26 months, she would receive two tax delinquency notices from her mortgage company. Both times, she sent her mortgage company proof of payment.

Finally, when she received her third notice in February of this year, she went straight to the tax collector's office. "I went down, hoping to get something from them and then give to my mortgage company saying, yes, you did pay your taxes and here's the proof," Chiostri said. That didn't happen. Instead, the tax collector's office told her the payment had been misapplied to her neighbor's property. "So I said, 'that's great that you can see that, can you please just apply it to my tax payment for me?'" Chiostri said.

But that didn't happen either.

Alameda County's tax collector Donald White says Chiostri had two years to correct the error, and the two years have already passed.

"If we're contacted after that two year period, the state law revenue and taxation code does not give the treasurers or tax collectors the discretion of remitting or correcting the error," White said.

On top of that, White says his office has sent Chiostri five delinquency notices over the past few years.

ABC7 asked a graphic designer at Colorbar to examine one of the notices.

"As far as I can see, they're paid up," Mandy Hulse with Colorbar said. "I don't see anything else that really stands out to me. It's somewhat confusing."

The tax collector, however, argues that it's there.

"It's big. It's bold. Most people see it," White said. "Most people read it when they get their tax bills. They'll see urgent reminders. It has a special box on the tax bill."

"That's not bold face," Colorbar's Hulse said. "It's Helvetica regular. They're wrong."

Hulse said the urgent reminder is done in a six-point font, about half the size of most standard fonts. White agrees that changes need to be made to the bill.

"The idea now is to try to come up with different colors and make it color-coded," White said.

White also agreed to wave interest penalties on the late payment, a savings for Chiostri of about $3,000. She'll still be responsible for paying the back taxes owed, however.

The tax collection office said it has never had a situation like this before and will be making changes to the tax bill over the next two years.

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