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Supervisors get tough on L.A. County contractors over back property taxes

After a sampling revealed 'a large number' who owe taxes, the board approves a law requiring potential contractors to certify that they aren't overdue. The law does not affect current contractors.

July 15, 2009|Molly Hennessy-Fiske

Los Angeles County officials are cracking down on potential county contractors with overdue property tax bills.

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved a law to require those applying to become county contractors to certify that they don't owe property taxes. Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Gloria Molina were not at the meeting and did not vote on the proposal.

The new requirement comes at a time of countywide belt-tightening. Last month, supervisors approved a budget that included departmental cuts of 7% to 15%.

"The county is in a pretty bad budget position right now, so it occurred to us that we should get these companies to pay their bills," said Mark Saladino, the county's treasurer and tax collector. "In this current economic climate, every little bit helps."

The requirement would not apply to current county contractors, who handle jobs such as construction, landscaping and medical services.

Saladino said he became concerned after his staff reviewed a random sample of 100 county contractors last year and found "a large number" owed back property taxes. Saladino would not say how many or what type of contractors were delinquent or how much they owed, noting that it was impossible to extrapolate from the survey how much is owed countywide.

It is unclear how many county contractors owe back taxes, Saladino said. He has asked his staff to continue random checks, but he does not plan an overall review, which he said would require his office to coordinate antiquated county computer systems and check millions of taxpayer records.

"We just don't have the staff to do that," Saladino said.

By law, the county cannot pursue overdue property taxes on commercial properties for three years, and five years for residential properties, which Saladino said limits his ability to pursue immediate payment.

"It's much easier for someone to voluntarily pay their taxes -- like, because they want a county contract -- than for me to try to enforce it," Saladino said, adding that the new law "is another piece of leverage we have to get people to pay their bills."

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molly.hennessy-fiske @latimes.com

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