Fresno County Assessor/Recorder Paul Dictos
Written by The Business Journal Staff
Fresno County Assessor Paul Dictos is asking the state Board of Equalization for help in handling an influx of property tax assessment appeals from commercial property owners.
Dictos’ request to the Board of Equalization to review his department’s staffing needs comes as the assessor faces a docket of 300 assessment appeals from owners of commercial property in Fresno County.
“Any taxpayer, whether a homeowner or a business, has the legal right to file an assessment appeal if they believe their property tax assessment is too high,” Dictos said.
Such appeals set off a process that includes a “thorough, time-consuming” appraisal of the property as well as a formal hearing, he said. As opposed to residential appeals, commercial and farm appeals require an appraiser with specialized knowledge, Dictos added.
The assessor’s office currently has six commercial appraisers, Dictos said, compared to 35 in Sacramento County, which has a similar number of commercial parcels as Fresno County.
Although the Fresno County Assessor needs additional commercial and farm appraisers to properly serve Fresno County taxpayers, the County Administrative Officer (CAO) has refused repeated requests to budget funds for more qualified appraisers, Dictos stated.
In fact, the CAO cut two critical positions in the Assessor’s most recent budget, he added.
The 300 commercial appeals equate to $1 billion in disputed valuation, which translates to $10 million of property tax revenue affected by delays in processing appeals, Dictos said.
By comparison, there are currently 51 appeals on the books from Fresno County residential property owners, with disputed valuation of $12 million, he said.
The top five appellants ranked by requested value reduction include tomato processor Toma-Tek Inc. with $174.53 million; manufacturer Vitro Flat Glass LLC with $104.63 million; beef processor Harris Ranch Beef Co. with $67.29 million; grower Pom Wonderful LLC with $50.13 million and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. with $44.02 million.
Dictos is quick to acknowledge the legal right of such appeals, but his frustration is palpable, especially considering the tax breaks corporations received under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, he said.
Dictos wonders if these commercial property owners are channeling the mindset of New York hotel tycoon Leona Helmsley, who was sentenced to 16 years in prison in 1989 for a wide variety of tax offenses.
“We don’t pay taxes,” Helmsley is reported to have said. “Only the little people pay taxes.”