A Tax on “Improvements”
In a county where we’ve dealt with more than our fair share of fires over the recent years we are now looking at a ballot initiative for a new parcel tax approved by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. This property tax increase would provide funding for more staffing and upgraded equipment for the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
Called the Los Angeles County Fire District, California, Measure FD Parcel Tax (March 2020) or “Measure FD” it would authorize the district to levy an annual parcel tax of $0.06 per square foot of structural improvements on all properties up to 100,000 square feet. The tax would exclude parking areas and vacant land. There is also an exemption for seniors on a limited income.
There is a need for the money all across the county. Some of the department’s fire engines and rescue vehicles are 20 years old and frequently break down, leaving firefighters and paramedics to devise a short-term solution or go out of service, officials said. More firefighters are also urgently needed, according Fire Chief, Daryl Osby. He claims that calls for emergency medical assistance have jumped by more than 50% in the last decade, while the number of paramedic units has increased by only 5%.
How Much of a Tax?
For a 2,500 square foot home the tax would amount to an extra $150.00 per year and it would be owed in addition to your current property taxes. The amount can go up as much as 2% per year, compounding with no cap and no expiration built into the bill. Unless repealed at some point in the future the tax would be indefinite. The tax would apply to residents in the department’s coverage area of 2,300 square miles. In total, 59 cities and the county’s unincorporated areas including Agoura Hills & Westlake Village.
Improvements are defined as “structures under a roof” although the law does not specify what constitutes a structure. A confusing point I see in the measure is that your garage is currently not considered living area (unless converted to such) and therefore not part of your taxable square footage. But your garage has a roof. A tool shed has a roof. It is a structure and could therefore be included in the tax calculation. At this point I don’t believe the county would have the man power or resources to recalculate the additional space on your property so they may just go with what is currently recorded at the county for your house. It’s not spelled out in the bill.
Although the new tax has the exemption for seniors on a limited income the measure does not clearly spell out the details of how it would implemented. Measure FD leaves it up to the fire chief to develop procedures for the senior exemption and the appeals process which could be argued is a conflict of interest. Also, the appeals process would be limited to mathematical errors in calculation of the tax or “significant discrepancies” over the square footage of the improvements. The measure fails to define the limits of the “discrepancy”.
The proposed tax does not take into consideration the assessor values of homes in different areas of the county. A house in an older, less expensive part of the county surely is not valued as high as a newer, larger structure in Bevely Hills. This new tax would not differentiate areas and charge everyone the same – 6 cents per square foot.
Critics say that the tax would make it more expensive to buy or rent a home or a business. I would agree. As costs for landlords increases so does the rent. The extra amount, even if $150.00 per year will get passed down to the tenants. And with a growing homelessness issue facing Los Angeles this may not be a smart move at the present. Aren’t we already overtaxed in this state? Does the county really want to drive more people away?
What About the Increased Revenue?
The county of Los Angeles has seen an increase of revenue of more than 33% since 2015, largely due to increases in home values and the resulting rise in property taxes. That means Billions of dollars more in revenue for the county. These additional funds should be used for needed emergency services as requested by the fire department instead of taxing us even more.
This parcel tax proposal has too many flaws and was rushed through the process. Although I am sympathetic to the needs or our county Fire Department, I am voting No on Measure FD on March 3rd.