San Francisco City Assessor-Recorder routinely holds personal checks for months before trying to cash them
For years now I have been trying to get the assessed value of my house lowered. Right now the appraised value is USD $140,000 lower than San Francisco’s assessed value. That means I am paying too much in property taxes, which is unfair.
The Assessor-Recorder of the City of San Francisco is hopelessly behind on processing requests for lowered assessments. The formal appeal I filed about a year ago still has not been processed. The appeal I filed this year is not due to be processed until 2013.
Last year I filed my appeal in person and paid by personal check. The check was not cashed for months after I presented it. This year when I paid, I chose to pay in cash, and I spoke with the woman in charge in the office about the delay in cashing my check last year. Amazingly, she was quite forthcoming with information.
She said that they routinely hold checks for so long that sometimes the checks are refused by the banks they are drawn upon for being too old, or stale. This results in a different department in City Hall charging a USD $50.00 fee, presumably for a bounced check. The supervisor I spoke with today said that her department had to pay lots of these $50 fees out of its own budget. What a mess this is. It’s such a mess I am putting my own appeal in jeopardy to bring this shocking news to my readers.
The office was littered with stacks of paperwork, including personal checks sitting on the counter where the public stands while conducting business. This is simply unacceptable. A person with bad intent could copy down the checking account information and steal money from unsuspecting check writers via an electronic debit transaction. This casualness with checks makes me suspect the checks are not locked up properly for the months that they sit before being cashed. How many people might have access to this sensitive information during this time? Checks are like cash, only more so. Once you have the account number an account can be drained to zero quite easily, I understand. The famed computer scientist Donald Knuth has written that he stopped using paper checks years ago due to their inherent insecurity.
Somebody needs to crack the whip in that office and get them to cash personal checks the day they receive them, or the day after at the latest. By waiting months to cash them, the City is putting people in danger of bouncing checks with their bank. Most people would never suspect the City would hold a check for months before trying to cash it. Yes, people should balance their checkbook and be careful. But I bet banks have made tens of thousands of dollars in bounced check fees over the years because of this incompetence in the office of the San Francisco Assessor.
I ask that my own application not be penalized for writing this post. I am writing this because I sensed that the supervisor I spoke with had the best of intentions but is so burdened by the flood of work that her department can’t keep up. I saw her personally answer the phone and it’s clear she cares about doing a good job as she was helpful and sweet to the people she was speaking with.
I hope that this post comes to the attention of those at City Hall that can help this supervisor process applications more fairly. Maybe they need more staff. Maybe they need better software. Maybe they need to adopt a cash only policy for the time being. There is an ATM in the lobby of City Hall so it would be easy for people to get cash on the spot to pay the USD $60 filing fee.
Finally, I should say that it is unfair to take over a year to process applications. I was faced with deciding to pay a second $60 fee not knowing the results of paying my first $60 fee. Maybe it was not worth it to pay the second fee.
I hope to get my assessment lowered by a six figure sum, as I have paid for formal appraisals in 2008, 2010 and 2011 to support my case. Wish me luck.