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Tax question pops up on Yuba County levee land
After a state board decided about 50 property owners in west Linda were partially on state-owned land needed for a levee maintenance road, a question came up: Were those same property owners paying property taxes, in some cases for decades, when they shouldn't have been?
The answer, from Yuba County Assessor Bruce Stottlemeyer, is ... maybe.
Generally, assessments would be made on what county deeds and maps showed the property lines to be, he said.
"We estimate the value of land by its dimensions as listed on the map," he said.
State flood-control officials, in conjunction with the Three Rivers Levee Improvement Authority, determined otherwise after surveying the area, which encompasses about 50 parcels along Riverside Drive and Feather River Boulevard, east of the Feather River.
What would be harder to determine, Stottlemeyer said, is how much money those assessments brought in. Since Proposition 13 in 1978, assessments are based on the value of the property as defined by the most recent time someone bought it.
That means while some of the 50 or so parcels may be assessed based on a purchase in the 2000s, for example, others had their value last assessed in the late 1970s, and in some properties have not changed hands since the 1940s.
In most cases, the amount of property state officials said the owners mistakenly believed they owned is fairly small in relation to the overall lots, Stottlemeyer said.
"I would just say it's on a case-by-case basis," he said. "There very well could be a justification for adjustment."
At least one property owner said his family plans to press the issue.
Philip Miller, whose family has owned a lot on Riverside since the 1940s, said he and his siblings still contend they're not on state land at all.
TRLIA's survey was of he and his neighbors' parcels but not the state land itself, even though old surveys of the state land — when it was owned by a railroad — suggest a different property line, he said.
Because his family has paid property taxes on the disputed land, he said, they should own it through adverse condemnation. If not, he'll be approaching the assessor, he said.
"We will challenge it," he said of the tax assessment, though he laughed when asked if he thinks his family will receive any reimbursement for taxes already paid. "Probably, those will be donated to the county."
Stottlemeyer said his office only assesses property, so any decision to actually change tax bills would be up to the county's auditor-controller and/or Board of Supervisors.
Another property owner along the disputed area, Monty Hecker, said he's been told he won't be assessed on the state land, though his private security firm extends onto a portion of it.
"I was fairly content with how it worked out," said Hecker, who, like others, had disputed the state's survey. "You can fight something for so long, but we need to get to a point to have protection back here."
CONTACT Ben van der Meer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 749-4786. Find him on Facebook at /ADbvandermeer or on Twitter at @ADbvandermeer.