Fresno State’s nonprofit association that operates the Save Mart Center has lost more than $3 million in potential tax refunds because it filed a tax appeal against Fresno County too late, the Fifth District Court of Appeal ruled.
California State University, Fresno, Association, had argued to the county’s Assessment Appeals Board that the county assessor had used the wrong method to tax the Save Mart Center, which is used both for Fresno State student activities and for-profit events.
The association lost before the appeals board, but took its case to Fresno County Superior Court, which sided with the university. The county then appealed to the Fifth District court. That panel sided with the county.
At issue was the amount of taxes paid by the association during the first four tax years of operating the Save Mart Center. The taxing method is at the discretion of the Fresno County assessor, who can choose to base taxes on the improvements to the property or the revenues from for-profit events, such as a Monster Truck Jam or concerts by Paul McCartney, The Eagles or Blake Shelton.
In May 2011, the association paid a tax bill and penalties of nearly $4.2 million after the 2010 decision by the county’s Assessment Appeals Board. But the association had to file its appeal within a year of the board’s decision. The association appealed in 2012.
“They paid the tax within that year, but then didn’t file a refund claim within that year,” said Peter Wall, deputy Fresno County counsel.
Then-Fresno County Assessor Robert Werner determined that the Save Mart Center should be taxed based on the value of the property improvements. The taxing method changed in 2007, taxing a portion of the for-profit events at Save Mart Center, which saved the association $600,000 to $700,000 a year.
In its Fresno County Superior Court lawsuit, the association argued that the for-profit events methodology should be applied to the four tax years that the property improvements method was employed.
They paid the tax within that year, but then didn’t file a refund claim within that year.
Peter Wall, deputy Fresno County counsel
“The association acknowledges this has been a complex case, but the association’s position remains that the correct taxation code was not applied during the years of 2003-2006,” said Deborah Adishian-Astone, vice president for administration and associate vice president for auxiliary services.
The association, she said, will not pursue an appeal.
“While we are disappointed by the appellate court’s decision, we recognize that the decision was based primarily on the procedural time limit in regards to the claim filing deadline,” Adishian-Astone said.
Paul Dictos, Fresno County assessor, said that he changed the payment method but explained that Werner did nothing wrong. Werner, he said, was charging the amount based on improvements because the Save Mart Center had no track record of attracting for-profit events in its first few years of operation.
In its lawsuit, which dates back to 2012, the association claims the property improvements were “overassessed.”
“You would need a history and actual income,” Dictos said. “I could have stayed with the other method.”
Dictos changed the method because a track record had become more established and he felt that higher tax bills for the association were taking away from programs at the university, which the association exists to benefit.
“I thought that if we changed the method that there would be more money for the students at Fresno State,” Dictos said.