Virgle Gage gives us something to think about

26 May
Virgle Gage is a nice guy to chat with.

Virgle Gage is a nice guy to chat with.

I am so glad I took the time to meet Virgle Gage – the discussion we had yesterday gave me a lot to think about.  I still believe a person needs practical experience in assessment and appraisal of properties to take this job, but I also believe there are subjective decisions to this job that are influenced by management philosophy, and I’ve been looking for each candidate’s particular management style.

I was impressed with Virgle Gage’s professional achievements. He has worked for years, doing what he calls “assessing”, in a general sense of the word. Mr. Gage assessed businesses for their performance, not their value, that’s about as simple as I can put it. Of course that job took knowledge, skill and training, but not the same training it takes to make a fair assessment of a home. According to Diane Brown, who is running the Assessor’s office in the interim between  Fred Holland’s retirement and the appointment of the elected official, there is a pretty vast set of rules regarding assessment, a thick manual in need of update.

I am not convinced a person who has no background in property assessment could come in and take a quick online course and test, and be considered qualified to run the Assessor’s office. On the other hand, I’ve found there’s more to this job than the qualifications. The Assessor makes a lot of subjective decisions, based on their own personal philosophy about how much a person should pay in taxes.  

I think there are two kinds of assessors. One kind works for the county, raising revenues. The other kind of assessor works for the taxpayers, making sure that we are assessed fairly.

There you go – that’s subjective. Everybody has their own idea of what’s fair. I think what would be most fair would be assessment based on sale price, but our California tax code allows the assessor to make “supplemental assessment,” meaning, if he thinks your house undersold, he can assess it for more.  I’d like to see a concrete set of rules for property assessment, and I’d like to think it runs along the lines of square footage and comparable neighborhood sales. Comps should be limited to the immediate area, within sight of the property being assessed, and should be of similar size, age, quality and amenities. 

Fred Holland was of the first kind of assessor, he told me so. He told me he thought it was his job to raise revenues for the county, and he would look for the highest possible assessment. When he came to assess my house, since I was home, he asked to come in. When I asked Why?, he said he wanted to see my “appointments” – drapes, counter tops, cabinets, flooring, all that personal stuff. That’s not what an assessment should be based on, and I said ‘No’. I referred any further snoopy questions to Old Venus, and I went in the house. I wonder how many people let him in thinking they have to?

Diane Brown spoke a lot about going into people’s houses. I don’t think that’s appropriate. If they’ve pulled permits, they’ve had an inspector in, and all that stuff is in the specs. Assessors can get everything they need from the specs and the front yard of a house. If there’s any suspicion that a property owner has un-permitted uses on their property, that’s supposed to be handled by code enforcement. There’s no excuse for anybody from the Assessor’s office to be snooping around in your house or private areas.

I think supplemental assessments are bullshit all the way around. How can they tell me my property is worth an amount I won’t realize unless I sell? And maybe not then?  It’s bad enough paying property taxes at all, but to have this all based on revenue needs is just wrong. It should be based on the concept of usable roads, quality schools, clean, safe utilities. 

While Mr. Gage felt it necessary to explain why he was running for this office, I was also interested in his general philosophy. I want to know, how does the candidate feel about Prop 13? Gage said he feels it motivates businesses to move to California, not only for protection of their commercial properties, but because a lower property tax rate gives homeowners more money to spend. This is the right attitude as far as I’m concerned, and I think we need to communicate this to the other candidates. 

This is one reason I hope the Assessor’s race goes on to November. I want this conversation to be had. 




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