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ADD-ONS TO L.A. TAX BILLS MAY RISE; ADDITIONAL PROPERTY ASSESSMENTS SOUGHT.

Byline: Patrick McGreevy Daily News Staff Writer

When Sylvia Gross reads her property tax bill each year, she's upset and confused by the growing array of special taxes and assessments tacked on to it.

``It's robbery,'' said Gross, 85, a retired escrow officer and former head of a homeowners group.

The number of add-on taxes, which are in addition to the usual value-based levy on property, could grow even larger.

If Los Angeles voters approve four more tax measures proposed for the November ballot, the number of special taxes and assessments on the average Los Angeles resident's property tax bill will increase from 16 to 20 - some of them involving multiple billings for the same kind of service.

The Los Angeles City Council gave preliminary approval this month to place three bond issues on the November ballot - one for an aquarium and other projects at Exposition Park, another for the Los Angeles Zoo and a third for renovation and construction of city library branches. The council is expected to vote this week on final approval for putting the bond measures on the November ballot.

The council also could vote this week to put a special tax on the November ballot to raise $740 million to repair about 4,650 miles of sidewalks throughout the city, a backlog that has developed over the past two decades.

And Los Angeles property owners are not likely to see the number of special taxes decrease. The council is considering at least three more bond measures, totaling more than $1.3 billion, for the April 1999 ballot.

Because Gross bought her home before state voters passed Proposition 13, the 1978 initiative that limited property tax increases, she is in the position of paying more for the 16 special taxes and assessments - $112 annually - than she pays for her regular property tax, at $101.

Assessments add up

For a $175,000 house in Tujunga that was purchased after Proposition 13, the special taxes and assessments total about $220.

With property owners paying so many assessments and taxes, the president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association is concerned that the council gave initial approval this month to zoo and aquarium bond measures with little or no scrutiny or debate.

``There is no question that there has been a proliferation of new taxes,'' Joel Fox said. ``Voters now have a decision of whether they should add more taxes.''

And the problem isn't limited to Los Angeles, he said.

So many special taxes were added in Alameda County, in Northern California, that the county ran out of space on its property tax bill and had to redesign the bill, Fox noted.

Careful consideration

Los Angeles Councilman Richard Alatorre said all of the special taxes and assessments on property tax bills were - or should have been - put there only after careful consideration of public priorities.

``Ultimately, (the voters) decide,'' said Alatorre, chairman of the council's Budget and Finance Committee. ``It all comes down to the quality of city people want and what they expect government to provide them.

``We have to be honest with people. I think all people should have a chance to determine what they are willing to vote for. That's what democracy is all about.''

Fox and other critics say property tax bills are too confusing and don't allow voters to easily understand what taxes they already pay, which they say is a key factor in deciding whether to approve additional taxes and assessments.

Gross confirmed that her ire is not lessened by the way the special taxes are disclosed on the property tax bill - with designations such as ``CTY LAND/LT 96-1,'' which gives little clue as to where her money is going.

``You don't know what it is,'' she said. ``Is CTY city or county? It seems to me they are keeping us in the dark.''

That assessment, which totaled $19.57 for Gross, actually is Proposition K, a benefit assessment to pay for city park improvements that voters approved two years ago, said Fang Chang of the city's Engineering Bureau.

``We're hoping next year to ask the county to correct that so it says Prop. K, or parks,'' Chang said, agreeing that the current designation is not clear.

Hard to understand

The abbreviation CTY LAND/LT 96-1 is supposed to indicate to the taxpayer that the charge is a city assessment under the state Landscaping and Lighting Act and was approved in 1996.

``It's unidentifiable,'' Fox said.

The tax bill is unclear in other ways, too. On Gross' bill, there are only 12 categories of special taxes and assessments, but some of them represent more than one tax.

All taxes for city library, police, fire and seismic safety bonds - which were approved separately by voters - are lumped into one category that appears on the tax bill as ``City-Los Angeles,'' with no mention that they are police bonds or library bonds.

``I think perhaps it would be wise to redesign our bills so they clearly identify each item, so we know what we're paying for,'' Fox said.

JUST WHERE DO YOUR PROPERTY TAXES GO, EXACTLY?

The yearly property tax bill for a Los Angeles home includes a general tax levy equal to 1 percent of its net assessed value, plus add-on taxes and charges. This example is based on a home in the Tujunga area with an assessed value of $175,000, which after the $7,000 homeowners exemption has a net assessed value of $168,000:

JOINT CONSOLIDATED ANNUAL TAX BILL

DETAIL / TAXES DUE.............AMOUNT

GENERAL TAX LEVY

ALL AGENCIES ...............$1,680.00

VOTED INDEBTEDNESS

(A) COUNTY .................... 2.66

(B) CITY-LOS ANGELES .......... 52.24

(C) METRO WATER DIST ......... 14.95

(D) FLOOD CONTROL ............. 3.83

(E) UNIFIED SCHOOLS ........... 20.18

DIRECT ASSESSMENTS

(F) FLOOD CONTROL ............. 35.16

(G) CTY LAND/LT 96-1 .......... 20.31

(H) CITY 911 FUND ............. 9.80

(I) COUNTY PARK DIST .......... 20.72

(J) CTY FIRE/PRAMDCS .......... 10.62

(K) GREATER LA MOSQ ........... 17.46

(L) LA STORMWATER ............. 28.03

(A) 2.66

$2.66 to pay for an $86 million county jail bond measure approved by voters in 1986, which included construction of the North County Correctional Facility and other jail facilities.

(B) 52.24

$29.51 to pay for $376 million in bonds for seismic safety work including the earthquake-retrofit of Los Angeles City Hall - a project still not completed eight years later and which has escalated in cost from $97 million to $276 million. Voters approved the bond issue in 1990.

$13.79 to pay for $176 million in police facilities bonds approved by voters in 1989. Proposition 2 was cited this month by critics of new bond measures because it promised a new West Valley police station and a sixth San Fernando Valley police station, neither of which was delivered because funds ran out.

$4.70 to pay for $60 million in bonds approved by voters in 1991 to install fire sprinklers in city buildings, but money ran out before much of the work was done, in part because $15 million was used to buy a new building for the city Personnel Department.

$4.17 to pay for a $53.4 million bond measure approved by voters in 1989, which funded the renovation or construction of 28 libraries. That project, which will be completed next year, has won praise for delivering what was promised.

(C) 14.95

$14.95 for $500 milllion in voter-approved bonds for the Metropolitan Water District, which used the money for construction of the Colorado River Aqueduct and a portion of the California Aquaduct, both of which bring water to Los Angeles County.

(D) 3.83

$3.10 to pay for bonds issued for the Los Angeles County Flood Control District for construction projects.

73 cents for storm drain projects by the county Flood Control District.

(E) 20.18

$17.46 for Proposition BB, the $2.4 billion bond measure by the Los Angeles Unified School District, approved by voters last year to pay for repairs and upgrades to local schools. The project has been plagued bycontroversy, including a failed attempt to use part of the bond money to build a $100 million high school downtown.

$2.72 for LAUSD school construction debt.

(F) 35.16

$35.16 in a perpetual assessment approved by voters in 1979, which raises $105 million annually to maintain 450 miles of drainage channels in the county.

(G) 20.31

$20.31 for Proposition K, a city parcel tax approved in 1996 by voters to raise $776 million over 30 years to pay for improvements to city parks.

(H) 9.80

$9.80 for a special police communications / 911 system tax of $235 million over 20 years to replace the LAPD radio systems and build two new 911 communications centers - one in the San Fernando Valley and one downtown. Although the bonds were approved by voters in November 1992, the city is still half a year from breaking ground on the two 911 centers in early 1999.

(I) 20.72

$20.72 in direct assessments for Los Angeles County Park District projects. Voters first approved the assessment in 1992 as Proposition A and increased it by 50 percent in 1996, also as Proposition A. Together they raise $75 million annually and have provided money to upgrade the Los Angeles Zoo, Griffith Park, Hansen Dam and other park facilities.

(J) 10.62

$10.62 for a special fire safety and paramedic communications equipment parcel tax, approved by voters in 1988, to pay for $67 million in bonds for a fire radio system, computer assisted dispatch system, remodel of the fire dispatch center and other equipment.

(K) 2.10

$2.10 for the South East Mosquito Abatement District, which raises $3.4 million annually to pay for programs to prevent and eradicate mosquito and fly problems.

(L) 28.03

$28.03 in assessments to pay for the city Public Works Department's Stormwater Pollution Abatement program, which cleans and builds catch basins and storm drains, and treats stormwater before it is dumped in Santa Monica Bay.

SOURCES: County of Los Angeles, City of Los Angeles

CAPTION(S):

Photo, Box

PHOTO (Color) ``It's robbery,'' 85-year-old Sylvia Gross says of the numerous special taxes and assessments she pays on her Tujunga home.

Gene Blevins/Special to the Daily News

BOX: JUST WHERE DO YOUR PROPERTY TAXES GO, EXACTLY? (see text)

Bradford Mar/Daily News
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 26, 1998
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