The delinquency rate for business equipment, boat and airplane taxes fell by 12.5% in Ventura County this year, which some officials say may indicate that the economy is on the upswing.
Taxes were due Sept. 3 on $2.5 billion worth of unsecured property--from oil-field pipes and rigging to dentist chairs and waiting-room furniture. The Ventura County tax collector's office said 86% of the 43,000 bills were settled by the deadline, compared with 84% last year.
"When the economy's taken such a hit, I can't explain this, though I'm certainly pleased," said Tax Collector Harold S. Pittman. "We expected to see a higher delinquency rate than we did last year."
The improvement in payments by businesses and owners of boats and airplanes runs contrary to the delinquency rate for real estate property taxes this year. That rate rose to 4.66% in the fiscal year that ended June 30, compared with 3.28% in the previous year. The delinquent real-estate property taxes totaled nearly $20 million, up $7.5 million for the previous year.
Like real estate, unsecured property is taxed at 1% of assessed value. Billings totaled $25.6 million in Ventura County this year, with 82% of the bills going to businesses, 15% to boat owners and 3% to plane owners.
Don R. Hansen, the office's collection account manager, said the delinquency rate jumped sharply among owners of boats and planes, who account for about 6,100 of the 8,700 unpaid bills. By comparison, a far greater percentage of businesses paid on time this year, he said.
"I was encouraged by the collection rates on the business side," Hansen said. "It makes me think that things are getting better within the business community." Typically, an improvement in the delinquency rate for real estate taxes follows on the heels of an improvement in the rate of payment for unsecured property, Hansen added.
OLS Energy, listed as owing more than $1 million in delinquent taxes on unsecured property, is working out a four-year payment schedule. Bruce Levy, president of New Jersey-based Energy Initiatives, a parent company, said the county recently hit OLS with a hefty bill, backdated several years, for reassessment of its energy-and-steam generation plant alongside the California Youth Authority prison near Camarillo.
"I'm disappointed that we showed up on a list like that because we've paid them an awful lot of money," said Levy, whose company supplies the CYA and sells excess electricity to Southern California Edison Co. "If you're making payments, I don't see how you're delinquent."
Several other companies listed among the leading delinquent accounts, such as Schlumberger Well Services in Ventura and Soule Golf Course Inc. in Ojai, are challenging their assessments and will not face penalties if successful, Hansen said.
Those who failed to pay by the Sept. 3 deadline are charged a 10% penalty effective immediately and a 1.5% monthly interest rate beginning Nov. 1.
William E. McAleer, president of Ventura County National Bank, said most businesses do not postpone payment because the penalties are steep compared to normal lines of credit.
And though encouraged by the improved payment rate among businesses, McAleer said it could not be taken as a clear sign of economic recovery.
"If you saw a drastic rise in the delinquency rate," McAleer said, "I think you would know things were looking worse."
1991 Ventura County Delinquent Taxes
Following are the companies in Ventura County owing more than $25,000 in taxes this year for unsecured property such as plant and office equipment, boats and airplanes.
Company Location Amount OLS Energy Camarillo $1,061,852 MNC Leasing Corp.* Camarillo $136,824 Wangtek Inc. Simi Valley $110,641 Ibis Systems Inc. Camarillo $101,065 Amplica Inc. Newbury Park $77,189 Soule Golf Course Inc.* Ojai $58,279 Schlumberger Well Services* Ventura $39,058 Convex Computer Corp. Camarillo $33,440 Richard A. Shaw Inc. Oxnard $28,896
* Assessment Under Appeal