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Officials to Revisit Tax Break for Jackson's Neverland as Cattle Ranch

March 21, 2003|William Overend | Times Staff Writer

SANTA BARBARA — County officials plan to inspect Michael Jackson's Neverland ranch to see if the 3,000-acre spread qualifies for a tax break as a cattle ranch.

The inspection, expected sometime in the next two weeks, will determine if Jackson's Santa Ynez Valley ranch is violating the state's Williamson Act, which provides tax breaks for large agricultural tracts but limits development on such properties to two acres.

Estimating that Jackson must have six acres or more of his estate devoted to 13 amusement park rides, barns and a private steam train line, the county's Planning and Development Department alerted county agriculture officials to the potential conflict.

County Agricultural Commissioner Bill Gillette requested a full report from the planning department to the county's Agricultural Preserve Advisory Committee by May 2. Larry Appel, a county planning official, said he plans to make a low-profile visit with no media coverage sometime before then.

Planning officials this week noted that Jackson legitimately leases most of Neverland to a cattle ranching operation, and has routinely complied with permit procedures for his various amusement rides and other facilities over the years.

But they said that they may have missed something, and that some adjustments may be required for Jackson to retain the Williamson Act tax benefits.

The Santa Barbara County assessor's office puts the 2002-03 assessed value of the Neverland Ranch at $12,292,618. Jackson's property taxes this year are estimated at about $13,000. If the property were not eligible for the tax break, the value would increase by about $6 million.

Officials said Jackson representatives have expressed interest in working out the problem, possibly by a lot line adjustment that would allocate more room for amusement park rides. But that might not solve the Williamson Act problems, they said.

Kathleen Weinheimer, an attorney representing Jackson, did not return calls for comment.

Jackson recently lost a breach of contract lawsuit to producer Marcel Avram. A Santa Maria jury earlier this month ordered him to pay $5.3 million to Avram for failing to perform two Y2K concerts planned for New Year's Eve in 1999.

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