"America is a land of taxation that was founded to avoid taxation." (L. J. Peter)
In 1978 property taxes in California had increased so drastically many residents were forced to vacate their domiciles and move into apartments, trailer parks and even rooming houses. A small group of Davids set out to confront the invincible tax dragon. This citizen initiative, Prop 13, fueled a tax revolt heard round the country. With the help of Nashville's Reaganomic guru Dr. Art Laffer, this new tax code stabilized property taxes and the economy became the envy of the nation for two decades. Numerous venture capitals transformed the Silicon Valley into the hub of technical engineering and the dot com industry. Even though it took a 2/3 majority vote to pass new taxes, 78% were approved by the voters.
When many Wilson residents recently received their tax reassessments, that were dubiously as much as 35% above market value, it brought back memories for all of us "imports" who labored in trenches of Prop 13's historic tax revolt.
As people called the tax man to question these assessments, they were told to call the state: "it was done by them not us." Angry residents soon discovered the process of getting their property reassessed at true market value was intimidating and expensive. One lady said, "They are making us jump through more hoops than a monkey in a three ring circus." It became even more convoluted when the state comptroller told them to call back to the county. It was then many started saying, "Most men would rather deny a hard truth than face it." (George Martin)
As interviews beseeched the tabloids and news networks it was obvious that there were more ambiguities than answers. Each judicial entity voters queried claimed a different formula was used to access their homes. This became more baffling than a thousand piece jigsaw puzzle in a nursing home cafeteria.
In an effort to quiet the storm, news leaked out there would be an adjustment and taxes would remain the same. If this is true then why are so many homeowners claiming foul? With the on-going talk of increasing the tax rate for schools and county projects such as the Expo, when the next tax hike is approved, they will be taxed at this hypothetical value, not the true market value. Our homeowners always thought, "Price is what you pay. Value is what you get." (Warren Buffett)
By now many residents are beating their heads against the wall, while others bury them in the sand. But that is not the answer. There is much more people can do. It takes time, effort and money, but what price do you put on justice?
In order to get your property reassessed you must lobby at least three boards and then Chancery Court and beyond. You are not innocent until proven guilty. Lady and Lord Justice do not prevail at the Boards of Equalization. You can't hire Perry Mason. You present your own case to the board who is judge and jury.
Be prepared. Arrive at each board with "true market comps" in hand as well as recent sales activity in your area of the county. If you have a bank appraisal, bring it. Carry your county deed to the hearing and point out disparities in tabulation. Be ready to insist you are given the amount of time you require to present your case to the board. Remember this is "your government" as well as theirs. You are entitled to more than 15 minutes of fame if it takes that to protect your rights. Above all, be respectful, even if the tax assessor did not treat with dignity. "The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting." (Sun Tzu)
Dr. King told us, "Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere." If you feel alone right now remember, the other counties will fall one by one and they will be facing the same wrath of dismay from mythical assessments also. They, too, will have questions that need answers. Our victories are won in the courtrooms not on the battlefields of the self pity. Even if you have to take your case to the highest court in the state to have your assessment amended, you could be the next "David" who slays the omnipotent tax giant like they did on the Gold Coast in 1978.
In 2013 the citizens of Wilson, under the direction of TAFA, set an example for the entire state by ending forced annexation. They united in coalition to assist all other counties in reclaiming their property rights. We gave the people the right to vote and protected the revenue of our counties. We must lead by example again.
We have an imperfect system, but it is the best we have. We must use it wisely. Let's show our other counties how the citizens of Wilson navigated the system and won. We did it before, we can do it again. "Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened." (Billy Graham)
Common sense and planning will be the best tools in your arsenal for a victory at your appeals hearing. Use all of them you have. Be persistent, and never forget, "You can't win unless you try to win, but you can lose by trying not to lose."