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City will pay property taxes

Jenifer Ragland

In an ironic turn of events, the woman who once gave South Lake Tahoe land to build a tax-free City Hall ended up being the whistle-blower making the city pay back taxes on the building it now leases.

The City Council tonight is expected to approve paying $18,890 to the El Dorado County Assessor’s Office for four years of unpaid property taxes on the Council Chambers and Service Center at 1900 Lake Tahoe Blvd.

The city has leased the property from owner William Floyd for the past 19 years, under the impression that it was exempt from taxation.

However, under state law, government agencies are only exempt from taxes on buildings they own.

After failed attempts to fight the payment, staff is recommending the council pay the taxes and, beginning with its 1997 budget, appropriate $4,500 a year for the payment.

“There is no legal provision or discretion to do anything other than to pay the tax,” said Kerry Miller, city manager. “If it was done, it would appear to be done specifically for the city of South Lake Tahoe and would have put the county in a difficult position with other taxpayers.”

Marjorie Springmeyer, a long-time watchdog of city and county politics, apparently instigated the issue when she inquired about whether the building was on the county’s tax rolls. Springmeyer is the eldest of Johnson family grandchildren, who donated six acres of land at Al Tahoe Boulevard and Johnson Boulevard for a joint government center that was to include a City Hall and county offices.

Following a land swap with the city, El Dorado County officials used the site for a courthouse.

Miller said city officials always believed the city was exempt from taxes, because the office space was not on the county’s tax rolls when the lease was transferred from the phone company to the city.

The reason, according to the assessor’s office, is because the land was on the public utilities tax roll, which is collected by the state and later distributed to counties.

When the city assumed the lease in 1982, either the state didn’t notify the county or that notification never got processed, Miller said.

“If there was fault in not assessing the property, it would have been the county or state officials at the time,” he said.

State law requires the county to charge taxes for four previous years, but allows more if the assessor believes the party tried to evade taxes.

Miller said that is absolutely not the case.

“We confirmed that when the property tax bill was mailed to Floyd, it was the first bill he’s received since he leased the building to the phone company in 1975,” he said. “These things do happen. And apparently it happens not infrequently, otherwise there wouldn’t be a provision in the law.”

The City Council meets at today at 6 p.m. in the leased Council Chambers, 1900 Lake Tahoe Blvd.


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