The State Board of Equalization voted unanimously February 22 to reconvene a task force to recommend solutions to staffing problems at the BOE and assessors’ offices after hearing testimony about an effort that may be bearing fruit in Los Angeles.
The board plans to reconvene the Workforce Planning Work Group during its April 26 meeting in Sacramento. The group plans to partner with the California Assessors’ Association and assessors representing large, medium, and small counties to “continue efforts to develop educational opportunities, recruitment, and training solutions for County Assessors’ offices and the BOE, in building a pipeline of skilled talent needed now and in future years.”
Los Angeles County Assessor Jeffrey Prang and El Dorado County Assessor Jon DeVille discussed a problem that has been voiced by many other assessors in recent years: a shortage of qualified candidates to fill vacancies in critical jobs.
“The problem doesn’t seem to be going away – it’s getting worse,” BOE Chair Antonio Vazquez commented.
It took approximately five months to fill a vacancy for an appraiser in El Dorado County’s office in the Tahoe area, DeVille said.
“And luckily that person likes skiing and he was willing to move up to South Lake Tahoe, or else we’d still have a vacancy,” the assessor added.
Prang added that if the split-roll initiative (Proposition 15) had been approved by voters in 2020, it “could have been a crisis” as it “would have required us to nearly double the number of our appraisers …, and it was virtually impossible for us to do that in house.”
A major problem, DeVille said, is that his county pays appraisers 9 percent less than a neighboring county. He recommended that the BOE help provide information that assessors can present to boards of supervisors to support salary increase requests.
Additionally, small counties don’t have a comprehensive training program for new auditor-appraisers, and the lack of dedicated training staff means other employees have to be pulled away from their normal work to train new hires, DeVille said. This exacerbates the workload problems caused by retirements and the departure of employees.
BOE Chair Antonio Vazquez and Member Ted Gaines have been studying ways to partner with the California Community Colleges system to take the training burden off the individual assessors’ offices, and Prang said Los Angeles County has had some success in early efforts to do so.
Prang noted that his county is the only one with a self-contained comprehensive training program – a five- to six-month program, in a classroom setting, followed by six months of field training – but the length of the process means his office has struggled to keep up with a typical year’s loss of 25 to 35 appraisers. The office looked for other solutions to recruit and train staff, and has been partnering with several community colleges in recent years.
One program is active and another has been initiated in which the office sends new hires to West Los Angeles College for some of the required training on approaches to value. Long-term, Prang said, he hopes the community college can provide training to anyone who wants it, and the training will meet the state’s standards.
Prang also is working with Rio Hondo College to train prospective appraiser assistants. People who go through the program aren’t assured of a job at the end, but Prang said his office hopes to have positions for qualified students.
Another community college has been approached to start a one-year training program for the position of “ownership technician,” responsible for reviewing deeds and other documents to determine if an assessable event has occurred, Prang said.
Thus far the partnerships with community colleges have been very successful, Prang said, and he hopes to expand the program.
Vazquez, Gaines, and BOE Executive Director Yvette Stowers noted that efforts to engage with community colleges in other counties have been less successful, but expressed hope that the pilot program in Los Angeles will encourage other campuses to follow suit.
Stowers said she received feedback from colleges that students aren’t interested in the appraisal field, so it is a challenge to convince colleges to offer the courses.
In other action from the BOE:
Assessors Get More Time. Stowers announced that the assessors in San Luis Obispo and Trinity counties have been granted 30-day extensions to complete their assessment rolls.
Property Tax Abatement Work Group Report Expected in June. The board voted unanimously to continue the Property Tax Abatement Work Group on Affordable Housing, which held several lengthy hearings last year to take testimony on the potential for using property tax relief to encourage housing development in California. The group was led by Cohen.
Emran said the Controller’s Office expects to have a detailed report on last year’s hearings by June, and said it will contain recommendations.
During last year’s testimony, local government officials and public employee unions vocally opposed the idea of approving tax relief, arguing that doing so would harm government entities that receive property tax revenue.
Vazquez said he wants the BOE to collaborate closely with assessors and property owners on streamlining the process of qualifying for the welfare exemption, saying the feedback from the hearings indicated that this is the best thing the board can do to incentivize low-income housing projects.
The BOE staff reported in October that they had completed a year-long streamlining project that resulted in many major improvements. Staff noted, however, that assessors also have a role in granting the exemption, and their portion of the process is out of the BOE’s control.
New Fact Sheet for Senior Homeowners. The BOE released a three-page fact sheet to help seniors navigate the property tax system and understand what relief might be available. The fact sheet was announced February 23 by Taxpayers’ Rights Advocate Lisa Thompson. CalTax noted that the fact sheet addresses questions that are commonly directed to the association, and will be useful for many older Californians.