Taxpayers overcharged due to error in high school district property tax bill calculations

Marsha Sutton
Marsha Sutton

By Marsha Sutton (editorial/opinion column)

Posted Oct. 24, 2013 at 4 a.m. (Story updated below 

Oct. 26, 2013 at 10:35 a.m

.)

County acknowledges error in tax bill

For those of you who have not yet paid the first installment of your 2013-2014 property taxes, it might be a good idea to hold off for a few more days. There appears to be an error, and it’s not in the taxpayer’s favor.

According to the county of San Diego’s financial services department, the San Dieguito Union High School District transmitted faulty information to the county, which resulted in a tax rate reflected on tax bills much higher than allowed.

“The information that came over to us that calculated that tax rate was the wrong information,” said Tracy Sandoval, auditor and controller for the county of San Diego.

San Dieguito passed a $449 million facilities bond measure last November, promising a tax rate of no more than $25 per every $100,000 of assessed property value.

After receiving our 2013-2014 property tax bill, I noticed that the increase over last year was significantly more than usual, even after accounting for San Dieguito’s bond tax. Instead of $25 per $100,000, ours came to about $37.50 per $100,000 – 50 percent more than the allowable amount.

Curious about the high rate, on Oct. 12 I emailed the school district’s associate superintendent of business services, Eric Dill, and asked for an explanation. Several days passed, so I asked again.

“I'm still working with the treasurer's office on this,” Dill replied in an email.

Hearing nothing, 10 days later I contacted the county of San Diego directly, on Oct. 22.

On Oct. 23 I heard from Sandoval at the county, who said it was an error, the first she or anyone in her office can remember that was not caught before tax bills were printed and distributed. She said she was first alerted to the issue late last week, Oct. 17 or 18, by Dill who contacted her in response to my inquiry.

She said the school district sent her office a debt service schedule that gets “translated” into a tax rate. “Long story short, we’re not sure the right debt service schedule was sent to us based on the numbers that were included,” she said.

Sandoval said the county is working with San Dieguito to determine what went wrong. But the more critical problem, she said, is how to refund taxpayers who have already overpaid and how to alert taxpayers who have not yet submitted their payments that the bill is in error.

She is also working with county treasurer-tax collector Dan McAllister and his office to address the problem. Bond counsel is also involved.

“Some people have paid some of their property taxes already so we’re working on solutions,” she said. “We have to work with the treasurer-tax collector’s office because they are the ones that actually process refunds.”

The distinction between the two areas of responsibility is that Sandoval’s department calculates the tax rates that appear on the tax bill. The bills are then mailed out and McAllister’s office collects the taxes. His office also processes any overpayments or refunds that are needed, she said.

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