Urgent Plea to Marin County Supervisors: Declare Health Emergency & Close Tax Collection Office
March 29, 2020
The Coalition of Sensible Taxpayers demands that Marin County Supervisors immediately declare a public health emergency that includes closing the county tax collection cashier window now through at least May 8 (with further extensions as appropriate). Doing so protects the health and safety of taxpayers who pay in person (to ensure timely payment and receive receipts) and also of public employees of the county tax office.
Importantly, this declaration of a public health emergency provides vital protection to our most financially vulnerable homeowners. Unlike county employees, many homeowners are now without a paycheck. For some families, paying property taxes on April 10 means they’ll be unable to buy food or pay for water and electricity; some will incur stiff penalties by choosing to pay for food and utilities instead of property taxes. YOU alone, as Supervisors, have the ability to provide a solution: Under California Revenue and Taxation Code section 2619, if the tax collector’s office is closed on tax day, late payment penalties cannot be charged. Any taxes due will be considered as paid on time so long as they are paid on the first business day after the tax collector’s office reopens.
The action we are demanding should not imperil the financial stability of the county nor the agencies to which it distributes tax proceeds. Most property owners will pay on time or have already done so. Among those who haven’t paid yet are undoubtedly many who are struggling to do so.
Please note that there is no other surefire way to protect those least able to pay. Marin County’s Finance Director Roy Given, per his communication with Santa Venetia resident Robert Dobrin, interprets state law as prohibiting him from granting late fee and penalty relief to county taxpayers unless the state grants Marin a waiver. Moreover, while Revenue and Tax Code Section 4985.2 (as pointed out by Assemblyman Marc Levine) may give the Tax Collector full authority to waive penalties for late payment of the April 10 installment for this FY 2019-20 alone, the installment and penalty must first be paid, before the penalty can later be waived. For those unable to make the payment by April 10, let alone the consequent 10% late-payment penalty, the authority provided to the Tax Collector is meaningless. Hence we are demanding that your Board declare an Emergency that addresses this pressing financial issue, while simultaneously protecting taxpayers and county employees from appearing in person at the tax collection office during a pandemic.
The county has granted protections for renters (at the expense of landlords) but not for homeowners unable to pay property taxes on time. Does the county’s desire to protect 100% of its revenues/payroll trump the public health and financial emergency facing its most vulnerable citizens?
Time is of the essence. This is when leaders must lead. Use your emergency powers to declare a public health emergency that closes the county tax collection desk through at least May 8 (with further extensions if necessary).
Let it be known that those who are financially distressed can wait to pay their tax bill, without penalty, until the office reopens. In parallel, you should communicate clearly to all taxpayers that those who can afford to pay on time SHOULD do so for our collective well-being; make sure everyone knows of the option to pay from the safety of their homes, without any added fees, via electronic funds transfer from a checking account.