Check the Math

I am writing an open letter to Joseph Holland, Santa Barbara County Assessor, to raise his attention to dubious calculations used in the assessment of property values. I have discovered some strange distortions of generally accepted mathematical principals to arrive at erroneously inflated assessments. I am forced to publish this letter publicly, because I have found Holland completely inaccessible to the public.

In particular, when a property with a structure under construction is assessed for present value, construction costs are continually revised upward, backward through time. That is, if the assessor-determined construction cost goes up during the course of construction, then the cost is revised upward for the years predating the increase. This is erroneous math. The correct calculation would be to use a summation over the years of construction, using the correct cost for each year.

This may seem like a subtle difference, but this math is simply not correct. It would be marked off as a wrong answer on a high school pre-calculus test. Having discovered this grave error, I brought it to the attention of the staff at the Assessor’s Office. I was met with very surprising defiance in the face of facts. Having raised the issue to the highest level available to the public, the Chief Deputy Assessor, it was explained to me that the error was in fact intentional. They had somehow hybridized the concepts of cost and market value to arrive at a number that was neither cost nor market value; however, it exceeded both.

This kind of intentionally erroneous math, when perpetrated by the public, is prosecuted as tax fraud. And yet, how is this justified by the tax assessor? There was no concise explanation forthcoming. I was given some printouts of legal jargon making vague statements about base values. No math was described in the text. Then I watched a manager jump back and forth between the terminology of cost and market value, unable to stand on either point. He was simply blurting gibberish to confuse and obfuscate the issue. Ultimately, I was told that I needed to pay for gold-plated toilets in Montecito.

The Assessor’s Office is there to serve the public. There must be accountability and integrity for the public to rely on. Using wrong math to inflate values is beyond unacceptable. Joe Holland, if you are doing your job as Santa Barbara County Assessor, please check the math.


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