A decision by the Calaveras County Board of Equalization to give a gay Valley Springs man a tax break has the county assessor threatening suit.
Matt Greenwood asked the board to override a “discriminatory” property reassessment by Assessor Randy Metzger.
And they did. Now Metzger said he has no choice but to sue. “I represent the people,” Metzger said. “It was basically a gift of public funds.”
The Board of Equalization is made up of the Board of Supervisors´ members.
Greenwood bought his home in Valley Springs with his partner James Castle in 1998. Castle died in 2002. As a result, Greenwood said his property was reassessed and he now has to pay $400 more a year in property taxes.
“If a married couple owns property and one passes away, the county waives the assessment,” Greenwood said. “Doing this for one section of the population and not for another I feel is discrimination,” he said.
“The law tells us we have to appraise,” Metzger said.
County Counsel Jim Jones said the assessor was right to appraise because there was a change in ownership.
But Greenwood argued there was no change in ownership since he and Castle were joint tenants with 100 percent ownership.
“He doesn´t understand the law at all,” Metzger said of Greenwood. “He had everything all mixed up.”
A law that qualifies domestic partners for the waived assessment was passed 10 months after Castle died.
“You can´t go back 10 months like that,” Metzger said. “That´s ridiculous. You can´t just rewrite the law. That´s not the board´s job.”
“It was the intent of the legislation to recognize this,” Supervisor Merita Callaway said as she made a motion to uphold Greenwood´s appeal.
Supervisor Lucy Thein seconded Callaway´s motion saying, “I´m very sympathetic to Matt. He´s provided testimony that sort of says he right.”
At that point Leslie Davis of the Assessor´s Office stood up and said, “I object to the conduct of this hearing.”
The board accepted evidence from Greenwood but did not allow the Assessor´s Office to rebut, Davis said.
“This is a quasi-judicial hearing in which we are the defendant,” she said.
Davis cited property tax rule 462.040 and said upon Castle´s death his half of the property was transferred to Greenwood triggering the change in ownership for property tax purposes, which is reappraisable.
“(Greenwood) confused a section of the California code that deals with probate, which is inappropriate here,” Davis said. “It doesn´t apply to the revenue and taxation code.”
After the board´s unanimous decision, Davis said, “this is a clear violation of the law,” and the assessor will consider taking the board to Calaveras County Superior Court.
“I haven´t made a final decision yet but I´m pretty sure I will,” Metzger said Wednesday. “I wouldn´t do this if it wasn´t such a blatant disregard for the law. The people are losing on this. They´re not getting the tax dollars in the system,” he said.
Metzger said he has six months to sue. “Of course I won´t wait that long,” he said.
If a superior court judge rules in Metzger´s favor, “it will be remanded back to (the board) to make the right decision,” he said.
Greenwood said he and Castle have served the Calaveras community for years. Castle was a volunteer for the literacy program. Greenwood is a volunteer firefighter and Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) with the San Andreas Volunteer Fire Department and works as an EMT and ambulance driver for Valley Springs Ambulance.
“I understand that this county needs money, but … forcing me to pay more taxes on my property so I can continue living here and continue serving this community is wrong.”
Calaveras Enterprise story by Vanessa Turner. For more Calaveras news, click:calaverasenterprise.com