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Prop 13 skirmishes on eve of its passing

Assessor holds back mailing

County assessor E.C. Williams faces two challenges on June 6: the Jarvis-Gann ballot measure (Proposition 13) and his own re-election. The odds that Williams will lose his own primary race are slim; at worst one of his opponents will force him into a run-off in November. But the chances that Jarvis-Gann will pass are much greater.

In light of this, the assessor has developed an interesting strategy. Arguing that passage of Jarvis-Gann would require him to readjust the tax rate on all 530,000 parcels of property in the county, Wiliams has decided to delay mailing this year's reappraisal notices until after the June balloting. Jack Templeton, Williams' chief deputy, claims that holding the notices will save the county some $75,000 in mailing costs alone should Jarvis-Gann render the assessor's work invalid.

But two of William's opponents claim the assessor is being overly cautious and that the major effect of his decision to withhold reassessment notices will be to boost his own candidacy. "It's a denial of due process," argues Barbara Hutchinson. "People are entitled to have those notices right now." Hutchinson, a controversial tax accountant and ardent supporter of Jarvis-Gann, correctly point out that even though property owners will receive their notices later than usual (mailings usually being in early April and are completed by early June), the appeals period, which runs from July 1 through September 15, will not be extended.

Templeton says that the appeals time will be ample for those who want to contest their assessments, but Hutchinson claims the assessor's staff will be unable to handle the deluge of calls. The chief deputy points out that the Los Angeles assessor has invoked a similar plan which delays mailing until July 1 and scoffs at the charge that Williams is assuring himself more votes by delaying the bad news of higher appraisals until after the primary. (Most parcels will jump in value — some up to 40 percent — and that means much bigger property tax bills.)

But Hutchinson, whose protests were seconded by fellow challenger Neil Good, still feels Williams is "terribly wrong," and she plans to "put the old pressure on," the way taxpayer groups in other cities, including San Jose, have done when their assessor decided to hold back the reappraisals until after the primary. Some property owners will doubtlessly join her cause when they learn that even if they appear in person at Williams' office, they can't get information about their property values. Templeton sheepishly admits that the computer which stores the half-million notices can only print out the information in the order in which it will be mailed; facts on random property parcels can't be obtained.

But the irascible Hutchinson, who's campaigning as "the lesser assessor," says there's a simple solution to it all. "I'll make a deal," she says with a smile. "They don't have to tell me what my property's worth if they stop planning next year's budget and agree not to accept another paycheck until we see what happens with Jarvis-Gann."

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