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County seeks reasons for $50-million drop in tax estimate

Los Angeles County supervisors plan to call county Assessor John Noguez to their weekly meeting Tuesday to explain how it’s possible that his property tax revenue forecast is suddenly off by $50 million.

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

County property was valued at $1.1 trillion last year. Taxes paid on that land is the county’s largest source of locally generated revenue and helps pay for a variety of services and agencies, including the Sheriff’s Department, county education office and Fire Department.

“I just know that everyone has never seen that kind of a swing in a three-month period,” Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said Monday. “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.

The two supervisors are calling for an examination of the assessor’s department finances.

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 wealth homeowners. Noguez acknowledges that he is friends with Ramin but has denied any wrongdoing.

A spokesman for Noguez said the economy and the number of home foreclosures probably played a factor in the fluctuating figures. “The market has been volatile,” said spokesman Louis Reyes.

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-- Jason Song at the Hall of Administration

 
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