La Canada Flintridge Unified School District officials say they are working on a plan to exempt small, undeveloped land parcels from taxation if voters in March approve a parcel tax to aid the schools.
The proposed exemption is in response to complaints by property owners who fear they will be unfairly taxed on land parcels whose assessed value in some cases is not much more than the proposed $150-per-parcel tax. The district is proposing to exclude from taxation land parcels with a market value of $15,000 or less.
Supt. Donald Ziehl said the plan will be submitted to school board members at the board's next meeting Tuesday. School board members decided in November to put the parcel tax to the voters because the district expects serious deficit problems without added funding.
The parcel tax would require approval of two-thirds of the voters within the school district's boundaries. Those living in the far western part of the city between Ocean View Boulevard and Rosebank Drive are in the Glendale Unified School District and would not vote.
School officials had estimated that, if the proposed tax were assessed on the approximately 7,000 land parcels within the school district boundaries, the district could raise about $1,048,000 a year over the five years of the tax. But, under the exemption plan, about 6% of the taxable land parcels would be eliminated, Ziehl said.
"We were working from a finite set of parcels and then became aware that, within that number, there were some of limited economic value," Ziehl said.
Most of the "postage stamp" parcels are "little pieces of land running along power lines and access roads," such as property that is used as a driveway, Ziehl said.
The district is proposing to draw the bottom line at $15,000 market value, Ziehl said, because "anything we saw that was $15,000 or under simply wasn't buildable." The so-called "postage stamp" parcels were "definitely not parcels of any marketable value," he said.
But the district did not become aware of the problem until property owners began raising questions.
Frank W. Doherty, a longtime resident of La Canada Flintridge, said he supports the parcel tax but does not favor being assessed for small land holdings that he owns in addition to his residence. "I have interest in a parcel of land whose assessed value is $300," Doherty explained. "If there is going to be a parcel tax of $150 against that property, the school board will end up owning it."
Doherty said he wrote a letter to the school district and suggested that the district exclude from taxation all property with an assessed value less than $3,000. Doherty reasoned that the school district would not be able to get the necessary two-thirds vote for the property tax if too many people objected to paying a tax on the diminutive parcels.
School board member Carole Siegler said the board is looking for a "clean way" to exclude small, undeveloped parcels from taxation. "It certainly never was the intent of the board to have somebody pay that kind of tax on a little easement," she said. "Those who have contacted us and are concerned know that we are really looking for something equitable."
But homeowners whose property consists of a single dwelling situated on two land parcels that are both of high market value would still face double taxation, Ziehl said. "If individual parcels are valued at $15,000 or more, they would both receive a parcel tax bill. We look at the value of the lot. Whether there is a home on it or not, the common element is what is it's value."
Ziehl said the number of property owners facing a double tax on land holdings with high market values could be counted "on your hands."