Sunday, February 8, 2009

Property tax scam targeting locals?

Our intrepid news reporter, John Saiz, is already working on this story for Wednesday's paper, but I thought it might be good to mention it now.

There appears to be a scam going around, targeting homeowners desperate to save money in any way possible. Homeowners in Patterson and apparently all over California are receiving a letter from a Los Angeles company stating that it can save them hundreds of dollars in property taxes by reassessing the person's home (presumably for a lower value than its previous assessment) for a reasonable price of $179, or something like that.

Problem is, assessing home values is the job of the county assessor, who does this sort of thing on a regular basis — for free.

So needless to say, nobody should be paying anyone anything, no matter how official their mailings appear — and I've seen this one; it looks legit — to reassess their home and lower their property taxes.

Here's a press release we received Thursday from the county assessor:

County Assessor Warns Area Taxpayers

Assistant Assessor, Steve Yauch, today issued a warning to Stanislaus County residents about a misleading offer targeting local homeowners.  The County was recently notified of the offer by a concerned taxpayer, who received the notification from the Los Angeles-based company offering to file a “Request for Review” form with the County Assessor for a $179.00 fee.  Property assessment and assessment reviews are free services offered by the County Assessor and property owners should never pay for a service to file a request for review.

“I want to remind property owners that our office regularly reviews property tax assessments, free of charge, to carry out our obligations under California Law.  Last year, our office reviewed approximately 60,000 properties and lowered over 40,000 assessments,” commented Mr. Yauch.  “The Assessor is required by law to review the properties that were reassessed at a lower value, as of January 1, 2009.  This year, our office will review most single family residences and condos as of January 1, 2009.”

Property owners who receive assessment related mail should check the validity of the sender and contact the County Assessor’s Office if you have questions or concerns related to your assessment. 

Owners of properties with resulting reduced assessments will receive a letter by the end of June notifying them of the results.  Owners who disagree with the results or did not receive a reduction for their 2009 assessment may call our office at (209) 525-6461 and/or file an application for reduced assessment with Clerk of the Board (209) 525-6414 between July 2nd and November 30th, 2009.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Willett: City doing OK despite drought

As farmers plan for one of their most challenging seasons in recent memory — the product of an ongoing drought and pumping restrictions at the San Joaquin Delta — residents in the city of Patterson seem to have less to worry about.

Patterson's public works director, Mike Willett, said last week that the city — which pulls all of its water from the ground using a series of wells — is in pretty good shape because it's not yet pulling more water than is typically replenished each year.

"We haven’t seen an impact on our supply at this point," Willett said. "The groundwater levels are trending little bit downward, but to this point, it hasn't been significant. There's a lot of water down there."

That doesn't mean residents should start flooding their lawns or keeping the water running while they brush their teeth, however. The great unknown for the city is not how much groundwater is available now, but how much will be used this year by farmers short on surface water.

With allocations from the Delta potentially being cut off this year, farmers might have no choice but to pump groundwater using their own wells to protect permanent crops. How much that might affect the groundwater supply is a complete unknown at this point, and it's one of the only possibilities that could force the city to crack down on its residents' water use.

Still, Willett thinks the city will be OK because the wells used by farmers are typically shallower than the city's wells.

"Most of the city's wells are deeper," he said. "We did that intentionally, so we're not in competition with other folks."

Willett said that with the city’s ninth well set to be completed by June 1 and with the City Council taking steps to ensure the city’s future water supply, Patterson should be in good shape for some time to come.

"We’re doing pretty well," Willett said. "I'd hate to say things are in bad shape, but I'd hate to say everything's fine. It's a fine balance between letting people know that we're OK for this year and still encouraging them to conserve."


Meanwhile, city officials and farmers alike will be praying for rain, and they might get some soon. According to AccuWeather, rain is in the local forecast throughout the rest of this week, and there could be more next week.

But it'll take a number of significant storms to bring local rainfall anywhere near normal.

After the city's most recent storm, which brought more than an inch of rain, the total for the season — which runs from July 1 to June 30 — was still at only 2.77 inches, or about half of the normal total for this point in the season.

The numbers are even scarier if you compare them to last season. In January 2008, a major storm brought the season total to 8.68 inches. But an incredibly dry spring brought less than 2 inches the rest of the season, and the total of 10.62 inches still fell short of the 10.68 average.

If this spring is anything like last spring, this season's rainfall won't sniff 5 inches, let alone 10.