Property tax assessment challenge could take a while

Depending on where you live, your property tax bill for 2012 has already arrived or will come in September. However, if you end up filing an appeal of that assessment, don't expect anything to happen anytime soon.

Chad LaJeune takes time to reflect in his garden as he waits for the city of San Francisco to make a decision on his appeal of his property tax assessment. He's been waiting since last year for an answer.

"They said, 'Well, it will be at least six more months before you hear about 2011,'" said LaJeune.

LaJeune appealed his tax bill last summer shortly after the appraised value of his home came in $40,000 less than his tax base.

"I submitted in July 2011, and paid a non-refundable $60 fee, and then I didn't hear anything for a year," said LaJeune.

His case is not unusual. The San Francisco assessment appeal board says about 75 percent of the more than 6,000 appeals already filed still need to be scheduled. Both the San Francisco Appeal Board and the Assessor's Office would not agree to an on camera interview, but the past president of the California Assessor's Association did talk to us. Ron Thomsen, Alameda County's tax assessor, says the backlog in California started a few years back.

"It started to peak in 2009 and 2010 and now '11, they're down and the filing period for 2012 has just begun," said Thomsen.

Thomsen says the average wait for an appeal hearing in the Bay Area is one year. As home values began to tumble, the number of challenges increased in some counties like San Francisco, the wait for a decision can be as long as two years--the maximum allowed by law.

"I think some assessors because of their staffing levels and budget that they've been afforded are having somewhat more of a problem," said Thomsen.

For people like LaJeune, that means he'll be getting his 2012 tax bill before knowing the decision on his 2011 appeal. The fee to apply is $60 and is non-refundable. He doesn't understand why officials aren't pushing back the deadline to file appeals.

"But in the meantime, you should go ahead and apply for 2012 and pay another $60 fee. I explained to them that if I was declined for 2011, there wouldn't be a reason to apply for 2012," said LeJeune.

For those willing to endure a long wait, we have information on important deadlines and how to file a tax assessment appeal included in the links.

*The Marin County Tax Assessor says tax bills are being sent out third week of September.

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