The coronavirus has delayed income taxes, mortgage payments and evictions in California. But not property taxes.
Friday was the deadline to pay those taxes without incurring a hefty penalty and Gov. Gavin Newsom let the date pass without taking any action. Business groups had urged Newsom to use his executive authority to delay the deadline or at least waive all penalties for late payments.
Local governments pushed back. Property tax payments are their largest source of revenue and only collected twice a year. The governments said they need the money because other revenue sources — including taxes on retail sales and hotel rooms — have dried up since Newsom ordered everyone to stay at home to prevent the spread of the virus.
Mariposa County is located in the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains north of Fresno and depends on revenue from tourists visiting Yosemite National Park. But the park, like most everything else, has closed. It’s one reason why Mariposa County Treasurer Keith Williams, who is also president of the California Association of County Treasurers and Tax Collectors, had asked state officials to leave the property tax deadline alone.
“Everybody who can pay, should pay,” he said. “Going forward, it will be a struggle for everybody. We’re all in this together . Together we will get through it.”
But that’s little comfort for homeowners like Dan Minkoff, a 51-year-old public relations consultant who lives in Long Beach. Most of his clients have closed because of the virus, cutting off most of his income.
For some homeowners, their property taxes are built into their monthly mortgage payments. But Minkoff and many others don’t do that, preferring to make payments separately from a mortgage. He had enough money saved to pay his taxes this year, but because his income has dried up he said he now needs to live off that money
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Friday’s deadline came and went, and Minkoff did not pay.
“I need to preserve my savings so that my family can continue to eat,” he said.
At least three counties — San Francisco, San Mateo and Kern — have extended the deadline until May 4. Others say they will give extensions on a case-by-case basis to people impacted by the coronavirus outbreak. In Los Angeles County, Treasurer Keith Cox says property owners can begin asking for an extension on Saturday.
“The department has set up a special team to process these requests,” Cox said.
That’s not good enough, said Rex Hime, president and CEO of the California Business Properties Association. He and other business leaders say providing relief on an individual basis creates uncertainty for property owners. And they question how local officials plan to process what is sure to be thousands of requests for extensions when many county tax offices are closed.
“Right now, the government has closed our tenants, our businesses,” Hime said. “Everybody isn’t a large corporation.”
Despite the coronavirus restrictions, many county officials say their property tax collections are right on schedule. Property owners pay in installments, with the first check due Dec. 10 and the second check due April 10. Many property owners pay both installments in December, and others are automatically paid by their lenders.
In Butte County, where a devastating wildfire destroyed roughly 19,000 buildings and killed 85 people in 2018, Treasurer Troy Kidd said the county has collected about 80% of its payments, which is normal. The county is receiving state money to help cover the loss of property taxes from the fire — but that money is set to stop next year.
“Most folks have been pretty understanding,” Kidd said. “We’ve seen our online payments more than double from last year.”