Jonathan Kraut | Tax Letter: Incompetence or a Scam?

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I just received a letter dated June 20 from the L.A. County Department of Public Health on July 11. I suppose many of our Signal readers have received a similar notice. 

Always skeptical when a government agency letter is dated 20 days before it is received and accustomed to the mislabeling of government notices, I read it carefully with an eye for a scam or hidden tax rate increase.

Aha. 

Today’s article is a warning that a failure to address the hidden content of this letter could cost many Santa Clarita homeowners an unfair tax assessment for years to come.

This letter starts out, “This letter is for information only, and no action is required on your part…”

Actually, the letter is an alert that homeowners must respond or be charged up to a new $43 county annual tax surcharge. The lead of the notice is deceptive, as it appears nothing has to be done and that its purpose is “information only.”

My notice states that the County Department of Public Health records indicate my property has either a conventional onsite water treatment system or a non-conventional system, i.e. a septic tank system.

Of course, this allegation is false. There are no records or permits stating that a septic tank has even been at my address.

My Fair Oaks Ranch neighborhood is a Pardee Home master development community comprised of more than 1,000 homes nestled above Highway 14 up the hill a mile from Costco. Every home in the entire development is connected to county sewer lines, which were installed as part of the master plan. 

Further, the County Department of Public Works, which maintains and periodically inspect our sewer system, is very aware of precisely what homes are part of the county sewer system. 

While my letter does not give a deadline date to protest this proposed tax assessment, either Director Liza Frias, who signed the notice, is unaware that her sister county agency has all the addresses of those homes connected to county sewer, or she is participating in this ploy to suck out millions more in taxes from unsuspecting homeowners. 

Before notices went out, Department of Public Health should have culled the “septic tank” community list by eliminating addresses connected to sewers as per the Department of Public Works. 

The notice at least remarks, if one keeps reading, “unless you have received this letter in error…” 

I searched my SCV Water bill for sewer line fees but found none. But, behold, on the L.A. County property tax bill, below direct assessments, it states “consolidated sewer… $50.50.” 

So not only does L.A. County Public Works have records that my home and the thousand in my neighborhood have county connections, but this data is denoted right on my L.A. County tax bill.

I frequently find that my expectations for fairness and clarity expected from our public servants regarding fees and taxes are not met. Again, I am disappointed.

A properly stated and clear notice in this case should in fact read something like this:

“Your action is required to avoid additional taxes and possibly unauthorized fees. The Department of Public Health has failed to examine Department of Public Works records and has ignored your Los Angeles County Property Tax statement and therefore you must prove with your property tax bill that your home does not have a septic tank system by (insert date here) or forever more your property tax bill will be unfairly assessed should you not respond.”

There are two assessment rates listed in my notice: $5 per year for conventional septic systems and $43 for non-conventional. I am assuming that homeowners failing to respond will all be hit with the $43 fees by default and will fight years of red tape to amend the error.

Imagine if countywide a few hundred thousand property owners ignore this “information only letter.” Is this poorly presented notice worth up to $12 million extra a year for the county by design?

Perhaps I am the only one in the SCV to receive such a notice? Nevertheless, I have contacted the office of our local County Supervisor Kathryn Barger for an examination of this ill-conceived process and hopefully there will be a review of this issue and retraction until after Public Health does its homework. 

Of course, I will report back in the future at the appropriate time.

So, what say you: scam or incompetence? 

Jonathan Kraut directs a private investigations firm, is the CFO private security firm, is the COO of an Acting Conservatory, a published author, and Democratic Party activist. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal or of other organizations.     

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