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LA County Assessor’s Tax Projections Off by $50 Million

In a rebuke of Noguez and his staff, the entire organization will be subject of a comprehensive audit by the Auditor-Controller.  

By Brian Hews

Los Angeles County Assessor John R. Noguez was taken to task on Tuesday over the way he has been handling his office by angry members of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

During a tense and vocal exchange with Noguez, Supervisor Zev Yaroslasky questioned him about recent fluctuations in property tax estimates and even questioned Noguez about how he conducts his “math.”

Noguez had estimated in December that the county’s property tax base would grow by $18.7 billion but last week changed the number to $5.1 billion.  This “change” could  result in $50 million less revenue for the county in these dire economic times.

During his motion on Tuesday, Yaroslavsky said “it is imperative that the Board of Supervisors, the governing bodies of other local public agencies, and the public have confidence in the Assessor to accurately, efficiently, and impartially administer the property assessment process. The public must be ensured that adequate controls are in place to safeguard the reliability and integrity of the system.”

“However, in recent days, questions have arisen about this very process,” Supervisor Yaroslavsky quipped.

Property tax is the largest source of local revenue for Los Angeles County and for most, if not all, other local jurisdictions (including cities, schools and special districts). For this reason, trends in the growth of assessed valuation of properties in Los Angeles County are followed closely by budget-writers at all agencies,” he stated.

In December of 2011, the Assessor issued the first forecast of growth in the tax roll for fiscal year 2012-13. At that time, the Assessor projected a net increase of almost $18.7 billion, or 1.77%.

This week, the Assessor issued an updated forecast.

According to this latest estimate, the assessed valuation of property in Los Angeles County will increase next year by only $5.1 billion, or 0.49%. This is a reduction in property tax revenue growth by more than two-thirds since December 2011.

The dramatic swing in forecasting of property taxes is unprecedented in recent history, and will raise serious concerns in the 2012-13 budgeting processes currently underway for the County and other local governments.  For the County General Fund alone, the forecasting change represents a potential reduction of $50 million in property tax receipts.

“To ensure the accurate and transparent preparation of the Los Angeles County property tax roll, the Board should order an independent review of the Assessor’s business processes, operations, and system of internal controls,” Yaroslavsky stated in his motion.

The Auditor-Controller will now conduct a comprehensive audit of the Assessor’s operations, including but not limited to the Department’s finances, business, administrative and procurement practices, and internal controls and information systems, to determine whether the Assessor’s office is appropriately and efficiently administering the County’s property assessment and appeals functions, and exercising appropriate management oversight of its operations and employees.

The Board also instructed the Auditor-Controller to retain outside consultants for the comprehensive review.

“Subject matter experts” to independently review and verify the Assessor’s roll forecasts for the upcoming fiscal year.

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