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Homeowners: Don’t be fooled by property tax notice

'Official'-looking letters claim savings on taxes if you pay
By: Michelle Miller-Carl Journal News Editor
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A letter being sent to thousands of homeowners in Placer County might be misleading them into thinking they have to pay to get a property tax reassessment. The letters have gone out to property owners across the state, including in Placer County, where the assessor’s office fielded more than 1,200 calls about the suspicious letters in the last week. Placer County Assessor Kristen Spears wants the public to know they do not need to pay a company to get a property tax review — that service is free and is available through the assessor. The letter from the company Property Tax Reassessment claims the recipient’s property may be over assessed. The notice contains the assessor’s ID number and information about proposed savings that could result from a property tax review. On the back, it states a $179 service fee is due on or before Feb. 26. Checks are to be made payable to Property Tax Reassessment and sent to a PO Box in Los Angeles. When reached Tuesday, a customer service representative at the phone number for Property Tax Reassessment referred all media inquiries to the mailing address. Jim Dubois of Auburn got the notice in the mail saying he could save $907 by paying Property Tax Reassessment to reassess his rental property. “I think I got that thing Friday and I was just frosted,” he said about the letter, calling it a scam. “The sad part is the way times are right now, some people are struggling and think if they pay someone $170 bucks, they can get a break on their assessment.” While there’s nothing illegal about the letters, Spears is concerned some homeowners may be duped into thinking they have to pay to get a property assessment review. “On the back of the letter, they do tell the recipients that Property Tax Reassessment is not a government agency,” she said. “It’s just I think homeowners may not read all of that. It really does resemble a tax bill. It looks official and it has a late fee. People are going to think, ‘I gotta send this in.’” Spears said homeowners are better off waiting to request reviews in July, when the assessor will be sending assessed value notices to all property owners. If homeowners feel the assessed value is still too high, they can then file for a review request at that time — for free. The “Decline in Value” form will be made available at the assessor’s Web site at placer.ca.gov. Hoping to save on property taxes as their home values tumbled, 1,900 Placer County residents filed Decline in Value requests last year, Spears said, while 3,800 filed appeals. The assessor has been adjusting assessments for the past two years, even when taxpayers don’t file a request, Spears said. “It’s the responsibility of the assessor to identify properties where the market value has declined below Prop. 13 base value,” she said. In 2007, the Placer County Assessor reduced 18,000 home assessement values. In 2008 around 37,000 properties were adjusted. Spears said many more would be adusted in 2009. Spears said many of the property owners she’s spoken to realize the notice is misleading. “So it’s refreshing to see people are getting it,” she said. “You don’t have to pay $179 for something you can get for free.” The notices have caused headaches for Sue Anderson. If someone omits the 1 when dialing the phone number for Property Tax Assessment, they get the number for her Edward Jones office on Edgewood Road and Highway 49 in Auburn. “I bet we’ve received 30 or 40 calls,” she said Tuesday. “They ask ‘How come you are sending me this stuff? Why are you doing this? What does this mean?’” Anderson, who received three of the letters in her own mailbox (two for her husband’s property, one for hers), said some of the callers have been irate. “This one woman called and left a message saying, ‘How dare you people. Now I know what you’re up to,” Anderson said. “She starts screaming into the thing, ‘Edward Jones should be ashamed of itself.’ I wanted to say ‘Hey, lady, you’re calling the wrong number.’”