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Valley rancher protests tax bill

Debra Moore
Staff Writer

Beckwourth resident Dwight Ceresola doesn’t like his tax bill or the way the assessor’s office handled it, so he took his case to the Plumas County Board of Supervisors.

It had been so long since the supervisors presided over a tax hearing that Board Chairman Jon Kennedy had to consult a list of instructions that included the procedures for opening statements, evidence presentations, witnesses, cross examinations and closing arguments.

“This is still a quasi-judicial process with the board functioning as a judge,” County Counsel Craig Settlemire said of the need to adhere to a process.

Settlemire guided the supervisors through the process, while Deputy County Counsel Steve Mansell assisted Assessor Chuck Leonhardt.

At issue was the valuation of 160 acres with several structures in the Sierra Valley. The value on the tax roll was set at $872,763 while property owner Dwight Ceresola wanted a $570,000 valuation.

After more than a year of trying to reach a settlement, the appeal reached the supervisors.

During an interview following the three-hour public hearing, Leonhardt said that his office has received about 25 appeals for each of the past two years, but this is the first that has come to the board. In most cases the property owner and the assessor are able to reach an agreement.

The public hearing had originally been scheduled for June 17, but Leonhardt asked for it to be postponed until July 1 because all five supervisors weren’t available for the earlier date and he wanted more time to resolve some issues.

During that two-week delay, Leonhardt reassessed a residence on the property from $558,000 to $401,000 and planned to reassess a garage from $139,000 to $26,500.

“When was this made available?” Ceresola asked of the new information.

“Last Friday,” Leonhardt said, which was June 27.

Ceresola, while appreciative of the new values, questioned why it took so long to reach those conclusions. He also questioned the quality of service and competence of the assessor’s office.

“There are concerns regarding miscommunication and customer service of the auditor’s office,” counsel Mansell said. “But the question here is what is the value of the property?”

It’s a complicated issue because of Proposition 13, which mandates values, and the number of buildings on the property and their various states of use.

For example, there is a home on the property that is no longer habitable. Ceresola said he would like to tear it down, but has been told it would require a $12,000 study to determine if it has any historical significance. As a result, it is still standing and he is being assessed for it. There is also a chicken coop and other buildings at issue totaling $49,466.

After hearing testimony from both sides and receiving the submittal of evidence, Kennedy closed the public hearing and the supervisors will discuss the protest in closed session and then issue a decision.

Assessor Leonhardt asked for a “finding of facts,” which means that the supervisors must reveal why and how they reach their decision.

Following the meeting Leonhardt said he expects to see more appeals reaching the supervisors in the future.

“When we start raising values, we will probably get more protests,” Leonhardt said.

During the economic downturn many county residents saw their property tax bills reduced, but as the economy recovers, property values and their associated taxes will increase.

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