The Fresno County Board of Supervisors, with two new supervisors in place, countermanded a vote from last year and agreed to start doling out a $2.06 million state grant that will allow the county assessor’s department to hire 11 new workers.
Those new employees will assist in updating appraisals and assessments, which could boost tax rolls for the county, its cities, schools and special districts.
Last month, supervisors Debbie Poochigian and Phil Larson, now retired, opposed the grant, which required four votes to add funding for the assessor’s budget. The vote was 3-2.
Poochigian remains opposed, but Larson’s replacement, Brian Pacheco, supported the grant on Tuesday. He said he was willing to give Assessor Paul Dictos an opportunity to show he will use the state grant constructively.
Tim Leming, assistant assessor, told supervisors that the assessor’s office has lost more than 50 workers since 2006 because of budget cutbacks.
In casting the deciding vote Tuesday, Pacheco, a farmer and former Fresno County Farm Bureau president, said the agricultural community and the assessor have a history of “animosities,” but he said he would like to “give everyone a fresh start with an open mind.”
That history involved financial evaluations of land under Williamson Act contracts, which gives farmers tax breaks if the property is used for agricultural purposes. The assessor’s office removed the Williamson Act designation from some land that was not being farmed.
Pacheco advised Assessor Paul Dictos to reduce assessments as quickly as they are raised. And he said the grant has been the dominant issue from callers to his office in his first week.
Poochigian, who cast the dissenting vote, said that Dictos has not “been truthful with this board and the taxpayers of this county.”
She accused Dictos’ office of stretching facts and bullying people, adding that the assessor’s office doesn’t treat all taxpayers with “an even hand.”
The state, she said, issued the grants for eight counties to add tax revenue.
“Every dollar you take out of our pockets goes to Sacramento for them to waste,” she said.
New Supervisor Buddy Mendes, who replaced retired Supervisor Judy Case McNairy, also supported the grant.
The grant will last three years, Dictos said, and the employment of those paid from the grant will end when the funding goes away.
Dictos said eight California counties received the grants, including Madera County, which received $450,000 over three years. In Madera County, the grant acceptance passed without debate, said Eric Fleming, county administrative officer.
Dictos presented a letter to Fresno County supervisors from the state Board of Equalization that said his office made changes in 2012-13 that complied with state law.
The 2013 Fresno County grand jury also agreed with his methods. The result of his effort was higher land valuations — and hence higher taxes.
At the time, the grand jury’s report said the revised tax roll was “accurate and timely,” and that its investigation did not find any problems with the assessor’s new Williamson Act tax calculations.
John Thompson, the county’s resources manager, said the savings would be five to eight cents per month per customer. He said the county will likely raise rates later this year under the consumer price index arrangement it has under its hauler contracts, which means that any savings will be outstripped by the anticipated rate increase.