Accusations of impropriety within San Francisco’s Office of the Assessor-Recorder have been lobbed over at mungpao.com. According to the site, a fundraiser and political friend of San Francisco Assessor-Recorded Phil Ting was given preferential tax bill treatment for a property purchased in 2007.
The text and accusations (emphasis theirs) from mungpao:
On December 24, 2007 Safai Ahsha, a fundraiser and political friend of Phil Ting, brought a brand new house on 27 Athens Street for $1,150,000. The Assessor- Recorder Office processed the sale in March of 2010. The 2007 supplemental bill, and the 2008 and 2009 escape bills were issued on May 28, 2010. The 2008 and 2009 escape bills are necessary to capture the property tax differences of what should accurately be billed for these two years. Since these two escape bills were issued on May 28, 2010, both of the 2008 and 2009 bills were already out.
Under Phil Ting’s order? the Chief Appraiser, Matthew Thomas canceled the 2009 escape bill in October of 2010. He, however, reissued the exact same bill within two weeks of its cancellation. As a result, there are penalties, redemption fees, and the interests became cancelled. The 2009 escape bill became qualified for interest free 5-year installment plan, under section 4837.5 of the Revenue and Taxation Code, which provides that secured escape assessments for prior fiscal years maybe paid over a 4-year period at the option of the assessee. Therefore, revenue that was due to the government was lost, and Ahsha enjoys the unjustly and illegally gained 5-year interest-free government loan.
The 2009 escape bill was issued on May 28, 2010; it is still within fiscal year 2009. So, the 2009 escape was a current year escape and cannot qualify for the 5-year installment plan. Please bear in mind the 2009 escape was not paid on the due date of July 14, 2010. This means a 10% penalty, redemption fees, and 1.5% per month interest is now applicable.
By cancelling the 2009 escape, all the penalties, redemption fees, and interests are wiped out. By reissuing it in 10/2010, the escape bill became a prior year escape bill. This is because the new bill was issued in fiscal year 2010. Therefore, it qualifies as a 5-year installment interest- free plan.
However, as for the 2008 escape bill, because it already qualified for the 5- year interest free installment plan, it was not cancelled or reissued. This is the only reason why no actions were made on the 2008 escape bill.
It is very clear the sole purpose of these unusual and illegal actions is to benefit Mr. Safai Ahsha, Phil Ting’s fundraiser, who held a fundraising event for Phil Ting on December 10, 2009 at Lot 46 Night Club & Loung at 46 Geary Street, San Francisco. Phil Ting endorsed Ahsha when Ahsha ran for supervisor.
Initially, the Chief Appraiser requested the Chief of Standard to carry out the cancellation. However, the Chief of Standard emailed back the Chief of Appraiser indicating he is uncomfortable about doing the cancellation. Therefore, the Chief of Appraiser finally did the cancellation himself and asked the MIS staff, Ron Santo-Domingo, to approve his work, in order to satisfy the computer system requirement. The Chief of Appraiser also reduced the January 1, 2010 roll value for Ahsha, from $1,170,218 to $725,000. That is a $445,218 difference.
These duties are only supposed to be done by the appointed District Appraiser, not by the Chief of Appraiser. The Chief of Standard knew that this is a very serious violation of the law. Even though this is an order by Phil Ting, he rightfully refused to participate in this matter.
Phil Ting, the Assessor, has willfully participated in this conspiracy by ordering his Chief Appraiser to cheat the very government revenue he has sworn to protect. We need to stop this kind of abuse by exposing his criminal acts to the public.
We haven’t reached San Francisco’s Office of the Assessor-Recorder for comment.
UPDATE: We received the following statement from Chief Appraiser Matthew Thomas in the Assessor-Recorder’s Office, which we’ve formatted for easier reading:
We strive to help every constituent that contacts our office to ensure they receive a fair assessment and excellent customer service.
A homeowner brought a case into the office, the case was reviewed on the merits and an adjustment was reached that followed the facts and applicable regulations. The Assessor-Recorder does not get involved personally with constituent appraisals. All constituent cases are handled by our staff of professional appraisers. We encourage any property owner who feels they are entitled to a reassessment to contact our office.
Last year the Assessor-Recorder’s Office proactively reduced over 18,600 properties that have declined in market value. Under state law (Proposition 8) if the current market value is lower than the assessed value, a temporary homeowners’ property tax reduction may be applied.
The property at 27 Athens is a 2,096 square foot three-bedroom single-family home with two baths which was built in 2007 and purchased that December for $1,150,000 ($549 per square foot). At $725,000, the tax assessed value is $346 per square, a reduction of 38 percent.
While we haven’t been presented with the homeowner’s case, the median price per square foot for single-family homes that sold in 27 Athen’s zip code (94112) dropped 21.2 percent from 2007 to 2010, 23.6 percent from 2007 to 2011, but the median area home is much smaller (around 1,200 square feet) and older construction.
We couldn’t find any decent 2010 era comps, in terms of sales, for the house.
∙ San Francisco’s Office of the Assessor-Recorder [sfassessor.org]
∙ 27 Athens Street Real Property Record and Notes [mungpao.com]