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Assessing Performance of the Tax Collector

February 24, 2003

Re "County Owes Him a Home," editorial, Feb. 19: Everyone seems so surprised by the fact that Terrell Dotson's home was sold and he didn't understand why. While his experience is extreme, it is by no means surprising to those of us who have ever tried to resolve a problem with the L.A. County tax collector. In my own case it was a fairly simple situation: the county had failed to credit my account, although it had cashed my check. I wrote to the department four times over the course of a year but could never get a response. In desperation, I wrote the county ombudsman and my county supervisor. The ombudsman said he could do nothing, as I had written the supervisor. The supervisor said he had passed my letter to the tax collector. Sure enough, just three months later, the tax collector wrote to say it had found its error.

While my problem never approached the magnitude of Dotson's, the lack of concern on the part of the tax collector's office is obvious. In Dotson's case, if the county handled customer payments as most businesses do -- by applying the current payment to the oldest bill -- it would have avoided the forced sale, even though there would have been some delinquent charges. The tax collector's office needs a thorough audit. Its procedures need updating, and I suspect the backlog of correspondence is unreasonably large.

Mike Baker

Long Beach

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Re "Board Tries to Help Out on Tax Bill Forfeitures," Feb. 20: I'm sorry Mr. Dotson lost his home. I'm sorry that he had no family, friends, church or community organization to help him. I'm sorry he was so incapacitated that he couldn't understand a notice that said clearly that his house was going to be auctioned off for back taxes. But as we tell all sorts of other people -- personal responsibility; and, we can add, community responsibility.

If those in the community want to give extra help to some people (why just elderly, and whatever "special needs" are?), let them do it on their dime. The county is closing hospitals and hardly is in the position to implement new programs that will somehow flag certain tax bills as belonging to certain people and give them different rules.

Zelda McKay

Manhattan Beach

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