County tax assessor’s actions under scrutiny

March 22, 2010

Tom Bordonaro

(Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series about San Luis Obispo County Assessor and Republican politico Tom Bordonaro.)


San Luis Obispo County Assessor Tom Bordonaro is arguably the most politically connected officeholder on the Central Coast — and its most controversial.

Bordonaro, 50, of Paso Robles, is a former two-term state assemblyman, failed Congressional candidate, and the current chairman of the Republican Party in San Luis Obispo County. He was appointed by governors of both parties—Republican Pete Wilson and Democrat Gray Davis—to terms on the state Board of Prison Terms and the Adult Parole Board.

However, critics are becoming increasingly concerned that Bordonaro, who was first elected county assessor in 2002 and is running unopposed on the June ballot for another four-year term, isn’t the right person for the job. Among other things, Bordonaro is being accused of using the county Assessor’s Office to enrich himself, his friends and some of his political allies, thereby reducing revenues desperately needed for education.

“I am sorry to hear of the possible problems in the office,” said former San Luis Obispo County Assessor Dick Frank. “I have been hearing about discontentment from the employees for some time.

“My problem is that anything that reflects of politics reflects bad on the office. I know when I left there the employees were honest and dedicated to their job and to the public.”

Bordonaro, his wife Martha, and his parents are the owners of the Bar TJ Ranch, an agricultural operation in Paso Robles that raises cattle and grows hay and wine grapes. Inconsistencies in the ranch’s 2009 property tax filing caused Assessor’s Office staff to question the totals reported by Bordonaro.

A subsequent audit concluded that Bordonaro had given incorrect accountings of agricultural business equipment assets, by about 60 percent, for at least the past four years, according to county documents.

In the 2006-07 tax year, for example, Bordonaro reported ranch equipment, including machinery and supplies, that totaled $20,400. But the subsequent audit valued the equipment at $69,300.

Property tax laws require a business owner who has given incorrect information to an assessor that decreases his tax liability to pay back the shortage with just under a 1 percent penalty. In addition, if it is determined that the business owner knew the value was underreported, an additional 25 percent penalty is attached to the bill.

However, employees who are under Bordonaro’s supervision determined he was unaware of the underreporting and was therefore not liable for the 25 percent penalty. This decision left many people incredulous.

In addition to being the county tax assessor, Bordonaro was the managing partner of AAA Plus Business Services, a business tax preparation service located in Paso Robles that helps business owners comply with asset reporting requirements.

“He is either arrogant enough to think he can get away with underreporting or he doesn’t understand property tax law requirements,” said one of his critics who asked to remain unnamed to protect his employment. “Either way, he shouldn’t be running for another term.”

Bordonaro contends that his parents made the underreporting error. He said he asked staff to audit the family business after he noticed the low reporting.

In addition to underreporting the value of his own properties, CalCoastNews has uncovered the alleged under assessing of other properties owned by assessor employees, Bordonaro’s business associates, or his friends.

In another example discovered by CalCoastNews, a girlfriend of Bordonaro’s banker bought a home last year in Templeton for $1.3 million. She had sold a bed-and-breakfast business in Paso Robles for a similar amount. She reportedly wanted to take advantage of Proposition 60, a measure approved by voters in 1986 that allows a property owner to transfer a property tax amount from a current residence to a new residence of equal or lower value.

Staff members in Bordonaro’s office originally rejected the new homeowner’s request because it did not qualify—according to a strict formula normally applied in such cases—for a Proposition 60 transfer.

Sources claim Bordonaro responded by asking subordinates to remove approximately $200,000 from the new home’s assessed value for four acres of hobby grapes, a practice not normally allowed.

This sweetheart deal, according to Bordonaro’s critics, equates to a total saving of more than $7,000 per year for his banker’s friend.

“The (Proposition 60) request was handled in the same manner that any other request would have been,” Bordonaro said, defending his handling of the case. “With regards to this particular request, assessor staff made a determination that an error had occurred and corrected it.”

Yet another example of suspected underreporting by a Bordonaro employee in the assessor’s office involves an Atascadero home owned by Charles Sechrist, an assessor employee who often attends out-of-area conferences with Bordonaro.

CalCoastNews examined the assessments done on a 2,250-square-foot home Sechrist built in Atascadero in 2003. In 2005, the three-bedroom, three-bathroom home was assessed at $261,280.

At the behest of CalCoastNews, three local brokers examined sales of homes of approximately the same square footage and age within the same area of Atascadero. The three determined that the value of the Sechrist home in 2005 should have been assessed at between $400,000 and $579,000.

Bordonaro contends the property’s value of $261,280 in 2005 was correct. And while new construction may be assessed for the cost of construction plus the price of the land, Sechrist’s property assessment was adjusted two years after it was constructed to show the lowered value of $261,280.

At this time, the state Board of Equalization (BOE), in fall 2007, was conducting a review of assessment practices at the assessor’s office.

An official report of the audit released in September 2009 by the state agency found no problems with the office’s assessments and also that Bordonaro “maintains the integrity of the assessment roll” through a policy of not allowing an employee to influence assessments in which they have an interest.

“Although there is no written policy, it has long been the practice in the San Luis Obispo Assessor’s Office that no employee may prepare or influence the assessment of property in which he or she holds an ownership interest,” according to the BOE report.

Bordonaro’s financial and personal relationships with BOE staff and officials – the agency responsible for regulatory oversight – has caused some to question how a two-month audit performed by 15 separate BOE employees failed to find underreporting by the assessor and some of the staff.

Criticism of Bordonaro’s performance as county assessor appears to cross party lines. Several Republicans are unhappy with their high-profile political leader for a variety of reasons.

According to some employees and officials in county offices, Bordonaro is rarely seen in the main office in San Luis Obispo and primarily shows up at a branch office in Atascadero to meet with area Republican leaders to discuss politics. In addition, numerous visits to the assessor offices by CalCoastNews appear to confirm these allegations.

“You are misinformed,” Bordonaro said and offered no other explanation regarding the charge that he is rarely in the office. “I have not met with members of the Lincoln Club to talk politics at the Atascadero office or any other office.”

The Lincoln Club is a countywide organization intended to recruit and support Republican candidates for office.

Bordonaro, using the tried-and-true Republican mantra of saving taxpayer money, says a reorganization of the Assessor’s Office has made for a more efficient workplace, thus allowing him to spend time away from his official duties.

“The portion of the budget under my control has decreased by 11.7 percent,” Bordonaro responded. The office budget has increased by approximately 9.5 percent over the past four years.

However, according to a state Board of Equalization survey of the office,  the reorganization has actually increased the cost of running the Assessor’s Office by more than 40 percent, from $5,768,270 to $8,207,665 over a five-year period, while staffing has remained relatively constant; the number of executive staff positions increased along with their salaries.

The criticism of Bordonaro’s tenure as San Luis Obispo County assessor comes at a time when the county is collecting less money in property taxes, which is the main source of revenue for local government and the schools.

Note: April, 11, 2010 – After Tom Bordonaro was elected to the state assembly, his partner in AAA Plus Business Services took sole ownership of the Paso Robles tax preparation service.

The cost of running the Assessor’s Office has increased by more than 40 percent, from $5,768,270 to $8,207,665 over a five-year period, while staffing has remained relatively constant.

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Wow. What a bunch of unsubstantiated insinuation, lies, and misleading statements. EVERY allegation is false. Period. Ms. Velie, shame on you for this trash parading as journalism and for impugning the reputation of my staff. They are a hardworking and dedicated lot that perform their job fairly and equitably. I challenge you to bring your proof and unnamed sources and meet me on the radio and let’s have a fair debate. Hey, maybe Congalton would host us? I have nothing to hide. Tom Bordonaro

Tommy, I don’t think the article impugns your staff. There might be a couple bad apples, or not. Seems to me the thrust of the article is on YOU. And you have every right to protest and argue your case, we are all listening. Your offer of a debate is appreciated and hopefully will come to pass so we can hear both sides, face to face.

Quick, Karen, get your dueling pistol and your puffy shirt!!!!

Karen’s never been wrong before, but according to Mr. Bordonaro, she’s missed the mark on every allegation in this one article. And by the way, sir, your staff was in no way impugned. These transgressions sit squarely on your shoulders. In fact, I know one of your employees who is very proud to have provided documentation.

“Everything is a lie”. I’ve heard that one before, in fact I’ve heard that one just about every time Karen does a story like this. Tom, I have no doubt that Dave Congalton will welcome a debate between you and Karen on his show. I look forward to it and I’ll be listening with an open mind. Heck, hell and high water couldn’t make me miss this one.

Relax, Tom, I’m sure you’ll get you day in court. You’ll look good in orange.

Mr. B.

I recall that Kelly Gearhart called Karen a liar and wanted equal time to rebut her accusations. We all know what happened to Gearhart. He was lying through his teeth. Most of Karen’s articles are the result of following up on tips from inside the system and she hasn’t been wrong to date. I have a hunch your employees are sick and tired of you using your position to do favors for your Republican cronies who believe they are due special entitlements. There are many decent Republicans who are disgusted with your abuse of position and power.

Dear Mr. Bordonaro,

If what you are saying is completely true and you are guiltless of any of these claims, then may every person who has badmouthed you publicly eat their words and issue a public apology. Fact is, I’d like to think they’d hope they’re wrong in their accusations than right.

Personally, my communications with you over the years as both a constituent and county neighbor have been excellent. Whenever the occasion would allow, I’ve always spoken well of you to others. To learn of these allegations has been deeply disappointing and I hope they are false.

However, one can’t help notice that you defend only your staff and not yourself in refuting these allegations. Now should they actually be true and your indigent response only a front, not only do you have to bear the consequences of your words and actions to the public, so do the most innocent and cherished members of your family who put their deepest trust in you. This alone would be the most shameful and unfair burden to bear for such arrogant selfishness.

Please, please, Mr. Bordonaro. Say it ain’t so?

WOW, Sitting here with my jaw on the floor. I’m not sure if I want to nominate Mike Brennler as a Candidate for County Tax Assessor or the head of a Citizens Gov Review Board.

I guess it’s the Review Board, I’m sure he wouldn’t want the CTA position. Who is going to run for Assessor? The pay and benefits are excellent. I’m pretty certain we can do a write in vote.

If ever a county was in need of a citizen controlled, power wheeling over site committee it is San Luis Obispo County. The majority of residents have no clue as to just how ingrained the network of hand shakers, back slappers and simple minded Good Old Boy’s has taken hold.

Anyone wishing to conduct any historical research regarding parcels in Atascadero will have to resign themselves to the fact that there was, up until several years ago a considerable amount of real estate held in trust by two separate entities from the days of EG Lewis that belonged to the people. This property was illegally conveyed to developers hence all the property tax records (except for the last “recorded” property owners) have been destroyed. Gordon Davis one of the trustees that is now deceased conveyed 8 acres to his cattle ranch from a trust just before he was murdered, or as some say, committed suicide with a shot gun after he had just cut a million dollar deal for the Pozo Ranch.

This is a fact! The reason, the county tax assessor said he ordered the records destroyed (?), there was no room to store them!

The scary fact is that this story like many others will die out while nothing is done about it, that’s exactly what they all count on. Who will step in, the BOE, the AG, the DA? This is going to take a lot more than CCN, a radio show and some bloggers to clean up.

I might clarify that when I say “destroyed the property tax records”, I mean destroyed. They were not transferred to disk or micro fiche. No efforts were made to preserve any previous histories on any property tax records in Atascadero, they were out right destroyed and can never be accessed or scrutinized in the future. If you are a new land owner the records of the previous owner are in tact, that’s it.

Well, our DA seems to be a worthless pice of junk-he seems disinterested in all the graft around here. He could have make a name for himself as a credible crusader for cleaning up this county, instead he sits mute in his ivory tower.

So far the only real information in this article is the name of the author. It’s apparent that nobody on the the staff of this site or the disgruntled employees being quoted have a deep understanding of California real property statutes

Funny that this seems so insignificant next to the biggest national tax increase since FDR… called “Health care”. Oh, did you hear how the money is going to be collected? The IRS is going to have the power to collect. Hold on to your assets.

As for Tom, he does what he is told raising property taxes the maximum allowed each year. The only real concern I see is those folks who want to sweep aside Prop 13and ‘get at the real money’ of the… middle class.

Beat your drum all you want, but I am more concerned with what the supervisors will do to ‘raise revenues’. As of today, I hear nothing about the county tightening their belt.

Roger Freberg

Roger, Roger, Roger, What are we going to do about you? There’s always something bigger and Tom just does what he is told, how about that!

Somebody check this guy’s property tax records.

well Cindy-loo,

My property tax records?

Funny girl, knock yourself out. I have never gotten any slack from either side of the fence. I even had the pleasure of an county inspector come to my house in SLO and it wasn’t even in his jurisdiction… under oath, when the supervisor was asked why he sent out the inspector, he said he did it because ‘he could.’

You guys need some fresh air.

Roger Freberg

I believe you Roger but your still a ‘pain in the “ars”‘, not that I would bother to break a finger nail over it, let alone, knock myself out ;)

Whenever the deeply flawed Prop 13 is brought up for critique, the “killing the middle class” straw man is resurrected. Prop 13 is long overdue for reform. It’s a give-away to corporations with loopholes big enough to drive a state budget through. Give it a rest Mr. Freberg.

Well… at least you are refreshingly honest about your point of view on taxes.

Oh, but I gotta say, the big corporations make a convenient whipping boy as does Big mean Prop 13. However, the solution to the state’s economic and budgetary woes will not be solved with even more draconian financial measures by the state. If you think this is going to work, we’ll watch it bleed and crash together.

Good Folks are leaving and there is a reason… don’t forget to turn out the light.

Roger Freberg

There are a few problems with your facts in this article regarding the Sechrist assessment.

1. You are substituting market value for assessed value which is not the same under Prop 13.

The Real Estate “Brokers” (were they actually brokers or were they licensed real estate Agents working under a broker?) gave you an estimate of Market Value as of 2005. Under our Prop 13 Laws that is not how tax assessments are calculated and would not normally have a bearing on the assessed value.

Per First American Title Co. Data Service the lot was purchased by Sechrist 5/02/2000 for $22,000. Under Prop 13 this is the base year for the lot and it can only increase at no more than 2% per year there after. The lot assessed value in 2005 would be about $30,000.

The home was added to the property at a later date so we need to calculate the contributory value of the home at that time (usually the cost to build is used if it is reasonable). If we subtract the lot base value plus annual increases in assessed value from your 2005 assessed value for the property we come up with an improvement value of a little over $230,000.00. The house was built in 2003 per your account so we need to subtract 2 years of prop 13 increases which leaves a cost of about $220,000.00 for building the home at that time. This would appear about right for the building cost in 2003.

This would make the assessment appear correct.

2. Your quotes from Dick Frank are interesting: “I am sorry to hear of the possible problems in the office,” said former San Luis Obispo County Assessor Dick Frank. “I have been hearing about discontentment from the employees for some time.”

This sounds like a quote from his time in office when he ran it like his own little fiefdom rather than as it is now which is very open and helpful to the public.

The way to check the credibility of a publication is to check their facts in an area in which you are knowledgeable. Based upon the above we can only make the assumption that the rest of the publication is now questionable for accuracy.

This article has the smell of someone wanting to do a hatchet job on the assessor rather than unbiased journalism.

You say that building cost in 2003 was about $97.77 per square foot. I’m the first to admit that I know nothing about construction but I refinanced my home in late 2002. The market was booming and it was advised that I increase the property insurance on my structure to a value of $150.00 per square foot replacement cost.

I don’t know what size lot Sechrist has but I know that in 2000, you couldn’t purchase a lot with any usable land for $22,000. I’m not saying he didn’t manage to do it, maybe he got a killer deal, however I thought that under prop 13, while it is true that the taxes are based on the purchase price the purchase price must be realistic.

Nobody managed to purchase a new 2250 sq’ home in Atascadero during 2003 for any 220K.

Dilapidated 1600 sq’ fixer uppers on less than 1/5 acre were going for 350K.

Your analysis is very interesting except for determining the lot value. In Atascadero between January 02 and December 03 there were 89 lots sold as reported by the Real Estate MLS. The median sales price was $155,000. There should be no problem with questioning the value that was put on Mr. Sechrists lot. It appears that it was “purchased” well below market value from a family member which is just fine. Although when title transfers, I believe the Prop. 13 is eliminated and the property should rightfully be reassessed at the true market value.

Jeez, are you going to join the fascist tea baggers and assault our Congress next? The CBO says this limp wristed excuse for health care reform will save us money, not cost us. And where is your heart, Roger? What about the millions without health care, and the other many millions drowning under the cost of whatever insurance they have, while the bloated fat cats live like kings off the average joe?

I don’t care if it costs, it is our duty to make sure everyone in this country full of so much bounty have decent health care. You and rush and sean and sara are out of it. I hope future additions to this weak bill will wipe out the private industry in order to give us affordable and universal one payer health care.

The issue here is theft, of public funds and the public trust. Whether or not Tommy is a crook should be looked into by appropriate authorities who will actually do their job. I do remember some interesting info about his accident and resultant government subsidized help, all while he was decrying ‘government interference’ in our lives. I wonder if anyone has info on that, hypocrisy seems to be rampant these days.

Obviously the fastest way to correct this problem is to replace Tom Bordonaro . The November elections can bring this to fruition faster than a recall. In the mean time, tie his hands and start an investigation. Anyone who is aware of any additional possible malfeasance might want check that person’s property taxes before they start posting names here. Beware, he has probably already started sanitizing property tax information.

Filing period ended a week ago.

A write-in campaign “may” be possible, or just start the recall right away, so that it qualifies for the same November ballot. That way Tom could be a double-winner: he could regain his seat and lose it at the same time.

Unfortunately for the citizens of SLO County (or fortunately—for Tom Bordonaro) the filing period has ended for this seat. Too bad. Look forward to 4 more years of installments for this epic tale of corruption.

What comes around, goes around, Tom.

Looks like we need to do that recall after all.

“Look forward to 4 more years of installments for this epic tale of corruption. ”

NO way Hodin. The teachers have a strong union that is more than capable of leading a recall. I suspect that they will weigh in on this. We need a trustworthy, competent candidate.

What’s interesting is that this is part one of a series and it’s already over the top. What else has he done that we are about to learn?

I have to wonder how it is that Karen Velie was able to uncover these property tax inconsistencies and yet 15 auditors from the Sate Board of Equalization found nothing? How is that? If Karen found thousands of dollars of improprieties on her own how much more is there? How many teachers have been laid off because someone’s friends and a political cadre’ haven’t paid their share of taxes? How many?

How does someone increase operating expenses by 40 % over 4 years? That’s an easy answer, the question is where was the oversight? Our children’s education is suffering over this self serving debauchery. Not one more day should we as citizens tolerate this. It’s time to feret out these wretched worthless parasites, expose them and collect what belongs to us, we the people should vow never to tolerate this again. Make an example of them, starting with the assessor. In fact I believe there is a county assessor in prison from San Bernardino right now as we consider our options.

Thank You Karen and CalCoastNews, you have done this community a great service.

BOE has a lot of explaining to do. Every one of those auditors is either incompetent or a criminal. I don’t care what we do with them, just get them off the public payroll.

JordanJ poses and interesting question, yields an interesting observation.

Jordan says, “I have to wonder how it is that Karen Velie was able to uncover these property tax inconsistencies and yet 15 auditors from the State Board of Equalization found nothing? How is that?”

My take is that Karen is a diligent and cautious reporter, but maybe she’s WRONG. Why are we so apt to believe one (excellent) reporter does a better job of auditing than 15 auditors from the State board? Maybe the “inconsistencies” are “no big whoop” in the assessing world. I really don’t know.

My observation is that we like to believe there is corruption in government, particularly when it involves republicans.

A corollary observation is that we like to believe government employees are imbeciles, which is why we so readily believe Karen is a better auditor than 15 of them.

So, I concur with all who are going to point out “Karen has not been wrong yet,” but I remain unconvinced of evil after this first article, and look forward to the others in the series.

In 96 when running for Congress as a Republican, Bordonaro started a committee named “Central Coast Democrates for Honest Representation” and they used phone banks to slam his democratic opponent. He got spanked by the Federal Elections Commission. Link below

If do your homework you will also learn that Bordonaro was cozy with disgraced and imprisoned lobbyist Jack Abramoff and that in 1997 he was sanctioned by the Calif FPPC for failing to disclose the sources of two large loans.

Bottom line … He’s crooked