Chevron Appeal of Contra Costa County Property Tax Bill Set for Monday

The illegal bullying tactics of Country County Assessor Gus Kramer are coming back to haunt him and County Costa County this week.

A Contra Costa County property assessment appeals board will release its decision Monday on Chevron’s challenge of its Richmond refinery values. Kramer was accused of fabricating evidence and ordering his employees to destroy the paper trail of his wrongdoing in the Chevron case, according to legal documents filed with the County.

The Chevron Richmond Refinery seeks refunds up to $73 million in property taxes from 2007 through 2009, slightly more than half of what the company was assessed for its 2,900 acre Richmond property which it has owned since 1902.

Gus Kramer, Contra Costa County Assessor

Gus Kramer, Contra Costa County Assessor

Kramer’s actions could have serious impacts for each of the 143 public agencies in the county that could be required to pay back $73 million to Chevron if the Appeals Board rules in its favor. A prior challenge by Chevron resulted in an $18 million refund for the Richmond Refinery for overpaid taxes in 2004-2006.

The county and cities, along with fire, parks and other dozens of other special districts, will bear the burden of any repayment at a time when most public agencies have already experienced years of declining budgets.

Chevron said on Friday that if it wins its appeal, it will not press the County and its 143 agencies for immediate repayment. Instead the oil company would like a fair and reasonable system of tax assessments, for Kramer’s illegal bullying tactics to end, and for stability and honesty from the County in how its taxes are calculated.

Chevron argued that Contra Costa County Assessor Gus Kramer and his staff acted illegally and unethically and intentionally miscalculated the final numbers for its tax assessment.

In response, Kramer accused the oil company of costly appeals and lawsuits in an effort to lower its taxes.

If the three-member appeals board sides with Chevron, it will be the refinery’s second victory in its nearly eight-year fight with Kramer over its tax assessments.

To date, Chevron has been victorious over Kramer and his department and their tactics in calculating the worth of Chevron’s Richmond property.

The panel in 2010 ordered a repayment of $17.8 million on the refinery’s 2004-2006 appeal, a figure short of what the company sought. Chevron subsequently filed a lawsuit, which is still pending.

Chevron has also appealed its 2010 and 2011 property values.

Refinery spokesman Dean O’Hair said the company remains eager to negotiate with the county a settlement of all the appeals and the lawsuit.

If the appeals board orders a refund on Monday, O’Hair said Chevron will again work with the county to minimize the financial impact on the public agencies including a phased-in repayment schedule and a waiver of interest.

The public appeals board hearing begins at 9 a.m. in the Contra Costa County administration building, 651 Pine St., Martinez.

Chevron has detailed the wrongdoing it says led to its unfair assessment of its Richmond Refinery and submitted it as evidence in the case. The refinery operation said that the 2007-2009 roll values were fabricated by assessor Kramer in violation of California property tax laws. In addition, the refinery submitted evidence that:

–Mr. Al wise, formerly senior appraiser in the assessor’s office, testified that he instructed Ms. Jenny Ly to enroll specific values for each lien year based on instructions Mr. Wise had received from his boss, assessor Kramer. The assessor offered no evidence to rebut Mr. Wise’s testimony.

–Ms. Ly admitted that taxpayer information was either deleted or altered in order to get the total taxable amounts to come out equal to the values she was directed to enroll. The assessor offered no evidence that the roll values were based on anything other than the arbitrary directives of assessor Kramer.

It appears assessor Kramer attempted to cover-up or disguise this illegal process by tasking his staff to generate a new analysis for the hearing and then hide or destroy the original roll value workpapers, according to Chevron’s legal filings.

“If a decision is made in our favor, we will notify the County Auditor Controller’s office to hold any tax refund, and forego any interest, while we continue to work with the County Assessor’s office on negotiating a settlement. Our goal is to achieve a fair and transparent process for calculating our taxes going forward, which will bring greater stability to Contra Costa County’s local communities and agencies, and help mitigate the impact on local agencies,” said the refinery’s spokesman O’Hair

“We fully appreciate the challenges facing the County and local communities and the potential impact this could have on you / your constituents. We have spent more than 8 years trying to negotiate a settlement to prevent this unnecessary stress on public organizations that are concerned about having to repay the taxes that the County overcharged,” O’Hair added. 

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