Let’s start with the basics: What is the Assessor and what do you do?
For those of who are unfamiliar with the Assessor, I am one of three countywide elected officials – the other two being the Sheriff and the District Attorney and I administer a department of approximately 1,200 employees located in six different offices throughout the County.
Our office is responsible for the valuation of all taxable real property in LA County, which includes both land and buildings, in addition to assessing the value of business personal property – which includes furniture, equipment, and machinery.
Let me be very clear about one thing, however, I am not the guy who collects taxes. I am not a revenue department, per se. The guy who collects taxes has a very intuitive title; he is called the Tax Collector! My job is to establish the value of all taxable property in the County, including land, buildings, and business property, as well as commercial and general aviation aircraft, boats, mobile homes and even race horses.
I manage the largest local property assessment agency in the United States, and am responsible for valuing over 2.5 million real property parcels and business assessments annually.
The property tax system is relatively complicated and the Assessor is only one piece of the larger operation. There are several other departments that we work closely with and each one of them owns a different piece of the property tax administrative system. The two primary departments that we work with are the Auditor-Controller as well as the Treasurer Tax Collector.
Here’s how it works, when my Office receives copies of deeds from the Registrar-Recorder, or building permits from cities, we then complete the assessment of value, the Auditor-Controller then determines the amount of property taxes owed, and then the Treasurer-Tax Collector mails the bills and collects the payments.
So, you are running for re-election in the Los Angeles County Assessor Office- Why should we care? What does the assessor office mean to the West Hollywood resident or business?
While the Assessor is a little known or understood elective office, it plays a critical role in local government. I always like to say that we are the most important government agency because no other government agency can do its job until I’ve done mine. And, if I don’t do it well and thoroughly, then property tax revenues that should be allocated to vital public services, including public education, public safety, and public health, etc. are left uncollected and those services in turn will suffer.
Each year, I am constitutionally charged with preparing the Annual Assessment Roll, which is essentially the inventory of all taxable property in the County. This year, we anticipate that property values countywide will grow 6% and generate over $18 billion in property taxes that will be allocated to cities, school districts, and county services. The total assessed value of all taxable property in Los Angeles County is close to $1.9 trillion.
Again, well I am not responsible for revenue, doing my job thoroughly and completely will ensure that all revenues will ultimately be collected.
For West Hollywood, property taxes are a very important source of local revenue that pays for streets, parks, libraries, salaries for city employees, and the social services that provide support for so many needy residents. Additionally, the Sheriff’s Department, county hospitals, and other county services that West Hollywood residents rely upon, as well as LA Unified School District that serves the City, all depend on revenue that begins with the assessments that my office is responsible for.
There was controversy in the previous administration at the Assessor Office, you came in to clean it up. What have you done?
That’s correct, my predecessor was accused of corruption and is awaiting trial on those charges.
When I was elected, I moved quickly to restore integrity and public confidence to the office, introducing sweeping reforms to ensure that our work is completed fairly, accurately, and with the utmost level of integrity. We implemented numerous new policies and practices, as well as new technology, which will make abuse of the system almost impossible to achieve. I am very proud that my efforts were acknowledged by the Los Angeles Times and the Daily News, and my department was awarded the highest honor available to any public assessment agency from the International Association of Assessing Officers (IAAO), their Certificate of Excellence in Assessment of Administration.
So what are you most proud of?
There are several things I am very proud of; the first is a major project to replace our previous antiquated technology system. When I was elected, I inherited a 1970s/1980s era, main frame, green screen, DOS based technology platform. It would have been funny if it wasn’t real. Moreover, the 2.5 million real estate parcels and business assessments that I am responsible for were each associated with a paper file. We have launched a major transformation program to move to a cloud-based system, we have digitized all of our documents, and we have done it with a development methodology that has kept us on schedule with no significant setbacks. I closely studied the debacles that occurred previously with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power billing system, and the Los Angeles Unified School District payroll system, which each had significant implementation challenges, and we used a development approach intended to avoid those pitfalls, and I might add we have done so successfully.
More recently, I initiated a new and innovative workforce development jobs program. Working with local community colleges, I have shifted training for a number of specialized positions within my office to local community colleges. Through this approach, I can ensure a reliable stream of qualified applicants, while providing good job opportunities for community college students. We have already trained a class of real estate appraisers at West Los Angeles College and are currently training appraiser assistants at Rio Hondo College.
I am also proud of our efforts to increase public awareness about the Office of the Assessor and the programs and services that we provide. The property tax system is very complicated and at times difficult to navigate. I have placed a high priority I’m trying to detangle this so that people can get what they need more quickly and simply.
If re-elected what’s next?
My three primary goals for the next term are: (1) completion of our technology replacement project, which has about another 12 to 18 months to complete; (2) the expansion of our workforce development program to help fill vacancies more quickly to ensure that we can complete our annual work; and (3) to reduce the backlog of assessment appeals by implementing new efficiencies that will help the County expediently and fairly resolve property owner disputes over their assessments.
Los Angeles County Assessor Jeff Prang leads the largest local public property assessment agency in the nation. His office of over 1,200 appraisers and support staff are dedicated to creating an accurate and timely property Assessment Roll. This year, the Los Angeles County Assessor’s Office conducted more than 2.5 million real estate and business assessments valued at more than $1.7 trillion. Prang is a former WeHo City Councilmember.