Photo by Sam Hodgson

Honesty and transparency are crucial to running the office of San Diego County assessor-recorder-county clerk, the technical county department that oversees assessing property for tax purposes. In his VOSD commentary, attorney Matt Strabone said 150,000 taxpayers aren’t getting a homeowner’s exemption and “are overpaying their property taxes” because nobody told them about it. In his commentary, he promised to give 150,000 more homeowners a tax break on their property taxes. That sounds nice, but it’s actually a grossly misleading campaign promise that shows his lack of qualification to hold the office.

Let me set the record straight: Everyone is notified of the homeowner’s exemption. California law, Revenue and Taxation Code 255.3, requires that all assessors must mail a homeowner’s exemption application to all taxpayers who may qualify. Strabone clearly ignored or is ignorant to California law when he said my office doesn’t inform taxpayers of the homeowner’s exemption and that’s why they haven’t received a tax break. My office is regularly audited by the state of California and consistently has been found to be in full compliance with notifying taxpayers of the homeowner’s exemption.

It’s unethical for Strabone to promise tax breaks to 150,000 more taxpayers who aren’t qualified for them, and he owes San Diego taxpayers an apology.

Let me clearly explain: There are a number of reasons why property owners don’t qualify for the homeowners exemption. The No. 1 reason — it’s not their home. They don’t meet the basic requirement that the property be their primary residence. By law you can only have one primary residence. If it’s your rental property, vacation home, a time share or a number of other uses then you don’t qualify. California law only allows you to use one tax exemption per primary residence. For example, if you are a disabled veteran and can qualify for a disabled veterans exemption you could save $1,340 annually on your property taxes, a far greater amount then the $70 homeowners exemption. Since you can only use one exemption, my expert staff would advise you to take the larger veterans tax break of $1,340 and not the $70 homeowners exemption.

Strabone’s misleading promise of 150,000 more tax breaks shows his lack of understanding of who qualifies for one of California’s simplest and most widely used property tax exemptions. Experience matters, and San Diegans want a county assessor who operates with integrity, has leadership skills to operate a department with over 400 employees, and, most importantly, be able to ensure San Diego’s technical property assessments are being done correctly.

Moreover, my office goes above the legal minimum to ensure taxpayers are informed of tax exemptions. We mail multiple notifications of the homeowner’s exemption to those who may qualify. Through frequent public outreach, a taxpayers’ rights advocate office, and by working with elected and industry partners like the local Realtors associations, we educate the community on a number of tax-saving opportunities.

To make matters worse, my opponent says he would drive the application to your home if necessary to ensure you got the exemption. Well, I can save him and you the trip because I was the first assessor in California to make the homeowner’s exemption application available online that can be completed with an electronic signature. I am determined to move you from the line in my office to online at home. Efficiency programs like this have saved 42,000 taxpayers trips to our office, reduced our carbon footprint, saved 650,000 pieces of paper annually and led to my department to return an average $3.2 million to the county budget annually.

We are here to help you and we offer great customer service. My staff includes technical professionals who worked hard to earn a 98.3 positive customer service rating and 4.5 stars on Yelp. We are rated highly because of our work to help 490,293 taxpayers, in 2017 alone, legally take advantage of tax exemptions saving them over $43 million so that homeownership in San Diego can be more affordable. Please use my office as a resource. We are here to serve you.

Ernie Dronenburg has served as San Diego County assessor-recorder-county clerk since 2010.

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