I was intrigued this week when I got the breathless notes from Democratic City Council candidate Carol Kim’s campaign team that it had caught Republican Chris Cate in some kind of tax fraud.
Cate, you see, benefited from a $7,000 reduction to the assessed value of his home in Carlsbad that you get when you live in the property you own. It resulted in a $70 benefit Cate didn’t deserve. He’ll have to pay $75 now and his 2014 bill is being adjusted.
This would have been interesting because if Cate lived in Carlsbad, then he wasn’t allowed to run for the City Council in San Diego.
Cate quickly produced a letter from the county assessor confirming that he had sent an address change but the assessor had, well, bungled it.
This is where I got intrigued. If, because of a tense campaign, someone pulled the records of one resident among the county’s 3 million and found this error, how many others had the assessor made over the last few years?
I called County Assessor Ernie Dronenburg to ask him what was up.
“We handle over 500,000 of these a year,” Dronenburg said. “It doesn’t come up that often.”
He said Cate filed an address change indicating where you want your bill sent. You’re required to do this when you move. He confirmed Cate sent this and that someone was supposed to review it. They have a system in place, he said, to make sure the change is made to the exemption.
“We don’t know why it didn’t happen, it just didn’t,” Dronenburg said.
I asked if maybe this warranted a broader review. Should we pull, say, 300 random people who get the exemption and see if they deserve it?
Dronenburg did not think that was necessary. He said he would hope people would check themselves and let the county know if they didn’t deserve the exemption.