How to repair broken trust over tax bill debacle

Marsha Sutton
Marsha Sutton

By Marsha Sutton

By now everyone has probably heard that all property owners in the San Dieguito Union High School District received a tax bill for the 2013-2014 year with an error on it. The amount charged for the high school district’s bond was about 50 percent higher than allowed.

For the blow-by-blow account of this unfortunate incident, please see the report on the Del Mar Times website, first posted last week, on Oct. 24:


Since my initial post, the San Diego County Taxpayers Association distributed a Taxpayer Alert bulletin, and the school district followed up with its own press release to property owners and the media last Thursday.

To sum up, SDUHSD promised it would cost property owners no more than $25 per $100,000 in assessed property value if voters approved the district’s $449 million General Obligation facilities bond. The measure passed last November with 55.1 percent voter approval (55 percent was needed).

But when I received my property tax bill for the period July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014, the charge was well above that $25 limit, amounting to about $37.50 per $100,000.

Several thoughts came to mind. Perhaps I was reading it incorrectly. Or the period in question was retroactive back to January. Or my assessed value was way more than it showed on the bill. Or was it some other misunderstanding on my part?

I even joked with others that perhaps the error was only on my bill, as punishment for covering the bond issue in my column so intensely the past few years.

I called SDUHSD for an explanation on Oct. 12. After several more requests, 10 days passed with still no response. Impatient, I then called the county, and county Auditor-Controller Tracy Sandoval informed me the overcharge was an error – the first time anything like this has happened, she said.

It’s a mistake on every property owner’s tax bill that adds up to about $7 million in total excess charges. To be clear, if you own property in the San Dieguito district, you were overcharged. Everyone was.

Figuring out how it happened and how to fix the mess are now the top priorities of the county and school district. Sandoval blames the district and the district blames the county, but both agencies are now trying to focus on a resolution.

Reissuing tax bills, when many bills have already been paid, was initially rejected. The leading solution as of this writing is to ask for full payment and then the county will issue refund checks. [This column is being written on Monday, Oct. 28, for publication Thursday, Oct. 31 – a truly scary Halloween story if ever there was one. In the interim, a final decision on how to fix this will hopefully be announced.]

No one noticed?

Besides understanding how this could have happened, how it will be resolved, and how much more it will cost taxpayers to execute the fix, there are other questions.

What comes to mind first is, why did no one else catch this? One can see why most property owners in the district wouldn’t notice that the bond tax was too high, because few people are close enough to the issue to realize what the amount should have been.



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