County assessor to speed up disaster victim relief

Board of supervisors waives previous requirement for owner application to reassess damaged property for tax relief

TULARE COUNTY – The worst wildfire season in state history torched Tulare County properties, and last week the county board of supervisors allowed the county assessor’s office to reassess damaged or destroyed property due to misfortune or calamity. This will potentially expediting much needed tax relief for property owners affected by the SQF Complex Fire and future disasters.

State tax code says property owners may be eligible for property tax relief if a calamity such as fire, earthquake or flooding damages or destroys the a person’s property. Tim Kochendarfer, assistant assessor with the Tulare County Assessor’s Office, said the recent update is to add a portion of the state tax code to the local county ordinance that was previously left out.

“What we did was update our local ordinance with the remaining portion of that section 170, that gives us proactive powers to go out there and start providing relief the moment that we identify it needs to be done rather than waiting for the application to be filed,” Kochendarfer said.

Kochendarfer said the new ordinance simplifies the assessment process that can provide tax relief for property owners. All the County Assessor’s office needs to be able to do is identify the property and how much damage has occurred, upon which Kochendarfer said they are allowed to self initiate and correct the property tax, providing property owners the reduction from the moment the assessor’s office is able to identify it.

“In the old process, even though we knew where the damage was or knew who was impacted or affected, we’d have to wait for that person to file a claim with us,” Kochendarfer said. “If they did not file a claim, the next year we can visit the property and remove [anything] that needed to be removed, but we would have to wait that time period, which means a person having to pay the property taxes during that period for something that no longer exists.”

Kochendarfer said the assessor’s office and the board of supervisors were able to get an emergency declaration out in November, months after the SQF Complex Fire had started raging through the valley, to have authority to treat SQF victims, which included mailing out a calamity damage claim application with their annual tax bills. According to a Tulare County Assessor’s Office presentation to the county board of supervisors, the assessor’s office received 148 calamity applications this year out of the 218 total parcels damaged. That left 70 parcels unassessed, with relief on $6.4 million dollars of property not proactively granted.

“The big thing for us is really the ability to get out in front of things,” Kochendarfer said, adding that the ordinance will help property owners with future natural disasters.

The SQF Complex Fire, the largest wildfire in Tulare County history, torched Tulare County for almost five months starting Aug. 19, 2020 when the lightning-caused Castle and Shotgun Fires were discovered and burned a total of 174,000 acres.

A total 228 structures were destroyed over the course of the fire, and 17 were damaged, decimating the mountain communities of Cedar Slope, Alpine Village and Sequoia Crest, which lost three quarters of their cabins.

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