What does the Los Angeles County Assessor Do?
And Why You Should Know if You Own Property
Interview by Mehdi Zokaei
The Los Angeles County Assessor is Jeffrey Prang who has been the Assessor since December 2014 when he was first elected. Prior to that he served for eighteen years as a city council member in West Hollywood including four terms as Mayor.
Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, Prange attended Michigan State University and came to California when he was 25 years old in 1987. During that time, he had been involved in government and politics. He worked for then county assessor Kenneth Hahn in early 1990s, for Los Angeles councilwoman Ruth Galanter in the mid-1990s, and then for Sheriff Baca for nine years. Part of that time, he worked briefly for John Chiang who was on board of equalization.
Prang was an assistant city manager in the city of Pico Rivera and then ran for election in 2014.
We recently met with Assessor Jeffrey Prang to talk about the importance of the work in the county.
Javanan: It is a pleasure to converse with you regarding the task and duties of the Los Angeles County Assessor for our Javanan Weekly Magazine and the entire Iranian community in California.
Assessor Jeffrey Prang: People do not know about us. Most people think that I am a tax collector. I do not do taxes. People call me the tax Assessor which is incorrect. I am just the Assessor. There is another person who has an intuitive title; he is called tax collector and he collects taxes. He is in different office. His formal title is Treasure & Tax Collector of the County of Los Angeles. People get that confused a lot.
When you buy property, or when you make improvements to your property, you record the deed or you submit a permit request, and these come down to my office. We look at those to determine whether or not to be reassessed or need to add value. The people on my team are real estate appraisers and personal property appraisers, and they establish the value. We then give those information to another department called Auditor Control and they determine the tax rate, and the property tax rates. Then they all add special assessments, like library bounds, or transportation funds. They call those assessments, but they are nothing to do with the Assessor’s Office. They are just based on local voters’ approval. They take this information and give to Treasure & Tax Collector who sends us your bill and collects all the money and then Treasure & Tax Collector gives it back to the cities, to the county, to the special districts- and this is how the process works.
The Assessor’s Office is probably the most Important local government office. Not everyone knows that because we are behind the scenes. But the truth is that no other government agency can do their job until I have done mine. And If I do not do my job or do it completely, that means that the police department, fire department, parks, roads, and schools are not getting the revenue that they are entitled to.
Revenue per se is part of our work so we just do the assessment and assess the value of Los Angeles County. All property we value is 1.4 trillion dollars. If I do not capture everything, that number might be less than that. If It is less than that, it means that property taxes are not going to be collected
in schools, and cities might suffer. In that regard, it is important that I do my job completely to get everything properly assessed and to be as thorough as possible. We have to be efficient.
We have already upgraded our old technology, we have replaced it with a new system. We are investigating probably 200 million dollars to completely rebuild our technology system. We are now making great strides for the people in the real estate business in particular making our website much more robust, with much more information and the history of property data. You can go look up your home or your property on website.And It is not only important for real estate community, but the public in general.
Javanan: You served twenty years for city council and with respect to your experience, how did It prepare you for your current job today?
Assessor: It was a real wonderful experience. West Hollywood is an important dynamic and innovative city. It has a constituency of people who are very well educated, involved. It is a city known throughout the world. It has parts of Hollywood in It. It has the Sunset strip. It has one of the earliest studios.
We were able to do a lot of innovative things. We had a very strong tax payers. We had the resources necessary. We put a lot of emphasis into the smart growth developments, transportation and housing.
And I am very proud of It. We built affordable housing for seniors. For eighteen years I was there, we provided hundreds of units to seniors on limited income. We provided a high quality of life, and public safety was a priority. We had lots of major events that brought attention to help the development of our community, like Halloween parade or the Pride Parade. We have a lot of immigrants from Russians.
It was one of the things I am proud of It and that is why I am interested in your Magazine. When I was a Mayor in 2000, I helped the Iranian-American Jewish Federation to relocate their headquarters to West Hollywood and I thought that was important to the race of diversity to our community and helped preserve the Historic Jewish Temple for generations. We had strong staff. We had very aggressive vision and I think the preparations governing there really helped me to be more prepared here as the assessor officer.
Javanan: What advice do you have for our readers who might have property but disagree with the taxes?
Assessor: It happens all the time. We establish a value for a property. It could be right or wrong. We warmly welcome the public to bring information to us that many not be considered. There are a few things they can do. They can call the office and tell the appraiser they disagree and give them the information and they can see if they can fix it there.
If they do not agree, you can appeal It your assessment or appeals board and they will reconcile the differences between the opinion of your value and our opinion of the value.
We have 2.5 million partials we are responsible for and we do make mistakes. There are sometimes conditions that will occur, so we will welcome members of the public bringing that information to us. We want to be fair. The job is not about the revenue. It is about the right value, fair value. We want to make certain that we are accurate.
Javanan: What part of your job is the hardest one?
Assessor: Probably the hardest part really is reaching out to community and letting them know who we are, how we do our service. Because ninety percent of the people think I am a tax collector. We have programs and we do not get help from people. For example, if you own a home and you are living in your home, you are entitled to something called home owner exemption. It may reduce your value by seven thousand dollars for tax purposes. It is not a huge saving, but It is seventy dollars a year to the home owner. But there are hundreds of thousands of LA county residents who qualify who not apply for it and it’s hard get the word out.
We do a lot more to help the members of public and we have a hard time reaching them because we are not a glamour office.
This is not the Sheriff, we do not have shiny badges that can capture the attention. I do recognize that is kind of the challenge we have.
Javanan: What part of your job is enjoyable?
Assessor: There is so much potential to make the office work better, more efficient, to provide tools resources to make our employees more productive and we are transforming things in this office. My goal, is that shift. Giving the staff the right technology and tools. We can put more emphasis on our appraisers to make sure the people’s appraisals are fair. We have about forty thousand cases on appeals waiting to be heard. Those cases wait for years. I think that is outrageous. That is travesty I am trying to fix that.
People should have a fair and speedy hearing to resolve their cases, because It costs you money. We should not hold on people’s money any longer than we have to. Upgrading the technology s one of the tools that is very exciting and the board of supervisors has been very supportive of funded our programs. And I have to say that last week in Las Vegas, the International Association of Assessing Officers which is a trade group for governing assessment agencies, awarded us with The Certificate of Excellence and Assessment Administration. It is the highest award to be given to an agency for exceptional work.
Javanan: You have served as a Mayor in Inglewood; would you consider running for Mayor of Los Angeles?
Assessor: I need to demonstrate that I am doing this job very well. I did have a moment of liberty with our Mayor Eric Garcetti and let him know that in the very first Los Angeles County Assessor Office, Antonio Corona served simultaneously as the Mayor of Los Angeles county back to1850.
Javanan: what does the future hold for the county of assessment office?
Assessor: I think, the future is very optimistic.
Los Angeles County is leading the way in California. The work we are doing here our technology could be completed by 2019.Our technology could become State standard for Assessors in California. I believe It will revolutionize the way we do our work, make It faster, make property more accurate and more thorough.
The primary reason, we are in exist is to provide the foundation to generate property taxes to pay for services that we rely on public safety, roads, education, parks and other important services. That is why we are here. My goal is to make sure each and every day we are doing everything possible. The public gets the resources they are entitled to. Individually treated fairly and as accurately as possible. We have broad application across California in some cases across the county.
Javanan: Are you running for election next year?
Assessor: Yes, the election in June 2018.
Javanan: Let us know how we can support the county and your work.
Assessor: I have had a long and warm relationship with your magazine and Persian community and had big strong support in my first election.
Javanan: Many people are interested to have a career in this field. What would you say to them?
Assessor: We hire five classes of appraisers and it is a professional position. We train you for a year and another year mentorship and there is no special degree.
It is a good profession. My former chief deputy had degree in English. We train them from the scratch. In our way, it pays well. You get benefits and a retirement plan. For your magazine readers who graduate from college, they should keep an eye on the county Human Resource job listings. Last time we posted that and five thousand people applied. It is a good way to find out about jobs.
Javanan Magazine wishes to thank Aram Sardarian for his help with this article.