By Jordan Kaufman, Kern County Treasurer-Tax Collector
First and foremost, I would like to say that I understand and share the public’s anxiety and concern about the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis. As the Kern County Treasurer-Tax Collector, it is my responsibility to balance the interests of Kern County residents, businesses and communities with the financial viability of our local agencies, schools and essential services. During times of crisis or disaster, this need for balance is most critical.
It is unfortunate for everyone that the April 10 property tax deadline came during the COVID-19 pandemic, however, neither the County nor I have the authority to extend or postpone the deadline. The two property tax deadline dates (December 10 and April 10) are specified in State Law and the State is the only entity that can postpone or change those deadlines statutorily. Through continued discussions with State agencies, they understand that the financial impacts of a significant delay could be disastrous to local government agencies, special districts, and schools statewide. Approximately one third of school funding comes from local property taxes so the schools are depending on this vital revenue source.
However, there is one very important exception in State Law that allows the County to extend the deadline. State Revenue and Taxation Code Section 2619 states that if the Board of Supervisors closes County buildings to the public, the tax deadline is extended until the next business day. Currently, County buildings are closed through May 1 so that effectively extends the tax deadline to May 4, the first business day County buildings are opened to the public. That bears repeating: The new property tax deadline for Kern County is May 4, 2020. Any payments received or postmarked up to and including May 4 will be processed as a timely payment.
After May 4, we can work with taxpayers on a case by case basis to waive penalties, costs or other charges at the local level resulting from tax delinquency due to the circumstances that are out of the taxpayers control related specifically to the impacts resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic crisis. To this end, I have worked with the Kern County Board of Supervisors to temporarily change our penalty waiver policy to assist Kern County taxpayers in this time of crisis. This policy currently states that in order to request a tax penalty waiver, the taxpayer must first pay the entire amount of taxes, interest and penalties and costs due. If the waiver request is approved, the taxpayer would get a refund of the interest, penalties, and costs due. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated impacts, from the period of May 5 through May 31, 2020, the requirement to pay all interest, penalties and costs up front has been eliminated. During this time, a taxpayer can pay the base taxes due and submit a special COVID-19 penalty waiver request with their payment. The special COVID-19 Penalty Waiver Request Form will be available on our website beginning May 5. These requests will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, but through a compassionate lens that will give the benefit of the doubt to the taxpayer. For those taxpayers that are able to pay on time, we strongly encourage them to do so. To date, many taxpayers have already paid, and those payments are greatly appreciated.
When County buildings reopen on May 4, we want to avoid hundreds and hundreds of taxpayers coming into our building and waiting in a long line to pay their taxes. In fact, there may still be a statewide order against gatherings that would prohibit in person payments. I implore taxpayers that would normally come into our office to make an in-person payment to utilize one of our other very convenient methods of payment. A taxpayer can pay online through our website or mail in a check or money order to the processing center.
I believe we are doing what we can at the local level to help struggling taxpayers during this difficult time. I am committed to helping local hard-working taxpayers while continuing to uphold my fiduciary responsibilities to local governments, local school districts and local special districts. For more information about taxes, or to make an online payment, please go to my website at www.kcttc.co.kern.ca.us.