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L.A. County could receive far less than expected in property taxes, estimates show

Last year, Assessor John Noguez estimated that the county property tax base would grow by almost $18.7 billion for the next fiscal year. But he revised that figure to $5.1 billion last week. The drop could lead to cuts in law enforcement, education and other services.

April 10, 2012|By Jason Song, Los Angeles Times
  • L.A. County supervisors are questioning how Assessor John Noguez's property tax estimates could change so drastically in a relatively short time.
L.A. County supervisors are questioning how Assessor John Noguez's… (assessor.lacounty.gov )

Los Angeles County could receive almost $50 million less than expected in property taxes next year, according to the latest estimates, which could lead to cuts in law enforcement, education and other services.

Last year, Assessor John Noguez estimated that the county property tax base would grow by almost $18.7 billion for the next fiscal year. But he revised that figure to $5.1 billion last week.

Property in Los Angeles County was valued at $1.1 trillion last year. Taxes paid on that real estate is the county's largest source of locally generated revenue and helps fund a variety of services and agencies, including the Sheriff's Department, county education office and Fire Department.

Los Angeles County supervisors are scheduled to begin considering their budget next week. The county has an annual budget of about $23 billion.

On Monday, the supervisors questioned how Noguez's figures could change so drastically.

"I just know that everyone has never seen that kind of a swing in a three-month period," said Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. "Something went wrong. Either [the assessor] was either dead wrong in December, or they're dead wrong in March."

The biggest drop occurred in properties that declined in value. In December, Noguez estimated that the tax base would drop by about $2.6 billion because of falling home prices. That number changed to about $13.5 billion in his latest report.

"This inexplicably precipitous decline … is shocking and cannot be accepted without scrutiny and verification," Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said in a statement.

Yaroslavsky and Ridley-Thomas have written a motion calling for an audit of the assessor's estimate. It also recommends an examination of the department's finances and "to determine whether the assessor's office is appropriately and efficiently administering the county's property assessment."

Separately, the district attorney's Public Integrity Unit is investigating the relationship between Noguez and Ramin Salari, a tax agent who has gotten large property tax reductions for wealthy homeowners. Noguez acknowledges that he is friends with Ramin but has denied any wrongdoing.

Assessor officials are scheduled to give a presentation to supervisors at the weekly meeting Tuesday, but the economy and the number of foreclosures probably played a factor in the fluctuating figures, said Louis Reyes, a spokesman for the assessor's office.

"The market has been volatile," he said.

County departments say they are awaiting more details before they start planning for cuts.

"It's too early to say," said Steve Whitmore, a Sheriff's Department spokesman.

jason.song@latimes.com

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