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Board Delays Checkups by O.C. Assessor

Property-inspections project is not approved. Supervisor Bill Campbell is worried about how it would be run.

June 16, 2005|David Reyes | Times Staff Writer

A planned three-year project by the Orange County assessor's office to inspect nearly half of the county's parcels for unreported property improvements, which could result in higher tax bills, was put on hold Wednesday by county supervisors.

The board held off approving the project after Chairman Bill Campbell expressed concern that field investigators might act like the Gestapo in their countywide search for building improvements made without the county's knowledge.

County Assessor Webster J. Guillory told board members he wanted to use a $6.8-million state grant to hire and train at least 29 employees to conduct inspections for structural improvements "that have escaped" the assessor's notice.

It would be the county's first large-scale property inspection in 25 years, Guillory said.

He did not elaborate on how inspectors would perform their duties, which caused supervisors' concerns.

Campbell said he was worried that nosy and overzealous field inspectors might peek over fences and otherwise intrude on residents without their permission.

He noted that when he campaigned for office, property owners complained of code enforcement officers who knocked on doors with a "storm trooper" mentality.

"This makes me nervous," Campbell said. "And until we have some guidelines as to how this project will be run, I'm not ready to turn over the funds."

Guillory said he would return to the board to specifically address supervisors' concerns.

The discussion came during the second day of county budget hearings. The county's proposed $4.9-billion budget for fiscal 2005-06 was preliminarily approved. The board is scheduled to adopt the budget June 28.

When inspectors find the value of property has increased because of improvements made without the county's knowledge, the property is reappraised at a higher value, resulting in greater property tax revenue to the county.

Guillory assured the board that the new employees would focus on home and structure additions and not on code enforcement.

In the course of their work, county inspectors also can access building permits filed with cities.

The project was to begin this year and last two to three years, Guillory said.

In a subsequent interview, Guillory said neighborhoods would be notified in advance through the local media and with printed material left on doorsteps.

The assessor's inspectors would carry county ID cards. If it were determined that they needed to go onto someone's property, they would leave a notice telling the property owner they wished to do so and arrange a convenient time to return.

In answer to the board's questions, Guillory said home improvements such as new paint and a new roof make a home attractive but do not add taxable value to the property.

"However, if you have added a room, swimming pool or a large addition, that adds value to the property and we will add that increment of value," he said.

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