You CAN fight city hall


Last fall while my mother and my mother-in-law were both undergoing cancer treatments and I was working like crazy at my former company to integrate acquired accounts after the partial buy-out of another company, things fell apart at home. I was relieved that most of my bills were paid online because the last thing I was thinking about was the incoming mail, most of which is junk. So it wasn’t until three days after the deadline to appeal that I took a minute to look at my property taxes and realized that the county had assessed some $25,000 of “improvements” onto the value of my home and that my taxes went up over 33%. While I wish we had been able to afford $25,000 of improvements on our aging home, the tax increase hit us hard and completely ate up the savings we’d just established on our mortgage after a refi just months before. It hit us doubly hard when I realized that the automatic payments I had set up through my bank were not adequate, which I didn’t realize until we were assessed a whole mess of late fees because instead of at least making partial payments towards our mortgage with the inadequate payments, the mortgage company just kept shuffling our mortgage payments into a separate fund for “undetermined funds.” Whatever.

I tried to appeal anyway was was met with a goose chase and no sympathy from the county assessors office. I thought about all the people who are arbitrarily hit with similarly unjustified tax increases but don’t know how to fight back. I thought how the government should have to justify such unjustified tax increases rather than putting the burden of proof on the homeowner. And I contacted my state senator, who, though we no longer see eye to eye politically, has always been respectful and responsive. She gave me an email of a VIP at the county and I emailed him. No response. I emailed him again. No response. I emailed him a third time. No response.

Figuring I just had to hold my peace until I could fight city hall, or, as it were, the county assessor, I coughed up the hundreds of extra dollars and waited until this fall. At which time I contacted a friend of mine who is in the know about these things and had her do some comps for me. And I took my appeal to the county. I noticed upon second look that an adjustment had been made, so the VIP must have at least received and acted upon my emails even though he never bothered to respond. But the adjustment was not entirely adequate and I figured the county had robbed me of a good $400+ last year, so I did not want to give them another extra penny.

The significance of the county’s response, another adjustment lowering my property value to the amount determined by the comps, wasn’t fully realized until I got an escrow account disclosure statement yesterday. I knew property taxes were going up this year anyway, but I still figured my mortgage should go down. Yet I failed to anticipate there would be a surplus this year already once my taxes were paid this month and that my mortgage company would be sending me a reimbursement check.

Oh happy day. The timing couldn’t be better, as December hits us hard and we generally only recover in time to be hit hard again come April 15th.

And this is why you can, and you should, fight city hall. Or at least the county assessor.

Dear little boy in the brown coat

I’m sorry I scared you when I slammed on my brakes when you darted out into the cross walk in front of me this morning. I’m grateful I did not hit you. I tried to give you the “go ahead” wave so you would know you were safe. I watched as you raced across the white parallel lines, praying you’d be visible to all the other drivers coming and going just two minutes before the bell was to ring at the local junior high. My relief as you safely reached the sidewalk turned to concern as I watched you, still running, trip and skid across the sidewalk on your hands and knees. I hurried to drop off the four nearly tardy 7th and 8th graders in my care and rushed back to see if you were ok. I suspected you were not.

You seemed so vulnerable. So young. So small. So alone.

As I turned left on to the street where your body had so roughly met pavement, I noticed a maroon minivan pulled to the curb. My worried heart relaxed just a little knowing someone had come to your aid as I had driven off just moments before. I slowed to ask the driver, who was walking back to his vehicle, if you were ok. He told me you were scraped up. Our eyes met. Shoulders shrugged and then sagged with the same sense of helplessness. Clearly we were both so willing and wanting to help. Yet we both knew it wasn’t likely we would be allowed.

Not in this day and age.

I pulled in behind the departing minivan, hoping that I, a woman–a mom, might somehow be perceived as “safer,” even though it was clear the good Samaritan who preceded me only had your best interest at heart as well.

Realizing it was unreasonable to offer you a ride home in my car, I asked to see your scraped up palms and offered to walk home with you (immediately realizing that now that too would be considered unreasonable). I wanted to make sure you reached home safely. And that someone was there to attend to your wounds.

“No, I’m fine alone,” you practically whispered.

As I desperately grasped at alternative ways I could possibly help you, you quietly repeated at each new offer.

“No, I’m fine alone.”

I understand. But I am sorry. So sorry.

I am sorry that you have–out of necessity, I guess, today I wasn’t so sure–been taught from a very young age that I, a stranger, am scary. A threat. And dangerous.

I’m sorry that even though you were surrounded by people who cared–people whose only desire was to help and make sure you were safe–this morning you had to go it alone.