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Placer’s top tax delinquents owe millions

Real-estate bust hits county budget hard
By: Nathan Donato-Weinstein | nathand@goldcountrymedia.com
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This is one list you don’t want to be on. As the brutal economy continues to drag, the number of commercial property owners in Placer County who are behind in their taxes has risen to the largest number in more than a decade, officials said. “We’re definitely off from prior years,” said Jenine Windeshausen, Placer County treasurer-tax collector. “The last time (delinquencies) were this high was in 1994-95.” Among the county’s largest delinquent property taxpayers are symbols of the high-flying real estate market of just a couple years ago: real-estate development firms, land speculators and major resort operators. Together, the top five delinquent taxpayers owe more than $7.6 million as of last month, including interest and penalties, county records show. That’s about 40 percent of what the county had to cut from its 2009 budget to make ends meet. “It is significant and it’s become more significant as other revenues have declined, particularly development-related revenues,” Windeshausen said. The county’s largest delinquent taxpayer is Suncal Bickford Ranch LLC, which was developing a 2,000-acre residential community between Lincoln and Penryn. It owed more than $2.9 million, according to county statistics. Its plight illustrates the fate of many projects that got squeezed during the market collapse and subsequent tightening of credit last year. After Lehman Brothers failed, most of the project’s funding dried up, and Suncal Bickford filed for bankruptcy. No work is being completed on the project. Suncal spokesman Joe Aguirre said in a statement last week that SunCal recently initiated legal action against Lehman to obtain “payment of property taxes and for maintenance and preservation of the property.” “We are hopeful for a favorable outcome so we can address the project’s outstanding obligations and move the development forward at the appropriate time,” Aguirre said. Roseville-based Kobra Properties holds the No. 2 spot. It owes nearly $2.3 million to the county following its bankruptcy, also in November, on dozens of properties around Placer. Kobra officials didn’t return calls. A partnership controlled by Booth Creek Holdings, managers of the Northstar-at-Tahoe resort, owes $1.1 million, making it the third-largest tax delinquent. Kierstin Cattell, a spokewoman for Booth Creek, said owners dispute the amount and the delinquency isn’t due to the company’s financial position. “We disagree on the zoning,” she said, adding that the dispute on what property’s land-use designation “makes a huge difference. “There’s a whole bunch we’re not disputing and were paid,” she said. Granite Creek Center LLC was to develop a 63-acre mixed-use project at Granite Drive and Dominguez Raod in Rocklin, according to reports. Its status is unknown, but the company, controlled by Roseville’s Granite Bay Ventures, owes $545,655 on the property in taxes, the fourth-largest amount; Granite Bay Ventures representatives declined to comment. With more than $365,000 owed, Dunmore Croftwood LLC clocks in at No. 5. The partnership was to build a high-end development in Rocklin called Croftwood Estates, but those plans fell through after its parent company, Granite Bay-based Dunmore Communities, filed for bankruptcy in 2007. Efforts to reach current owners were unsuccessful. * Lengthy wait for payment * With commercial bankruptcies rising, counties are actually in a stronger position these days to collect because of recent changes to bankruptcy law, officials said. “It used to be we had to negotiate,” Windeshausen said. “Now we are the first-priority creditor. The only time we don’t get it is when there isn’t enough money to pay the creditors.” But many tax delinquencies still take years to resolve. A property owner not in bankruptcy must be in default for five years before the tax collector can take action under the law, Windeshousen said. At that point, it can offer the property up for sale. In the meantime, property owners in arrears can rack up significant fees and interest penalties. Changes in ownership or the termination of a business doesn’t wipe out the debt. “It doesn’t matter if they’ve gone defunct,” Windeshausen said. “Whoever the current owner is, is the one responsible.” Still, many property owners – residential and commercial – are appealing their assessed value, which could drop county revenue further. A National Association of Counties survey found 76 percent of large counties said reduced revenue from property taxes was having an impact on their budgets, according to reports. Who owes the most in property taxes? Company name; amount; who’s behind it 1. Suncal Bickford Ranch LLC*; $2.9 million; Bruce Elieff, CEO of Irvine-based Suncal Cos. 2. Kobra Properties LLC*; $2.67 million; founder Abe Alizadeh, Granite Bay 3. CNL Income Northstar LLC, $1.11 million; C T Corporation System 4. Granite Creek Center LLC, $545,655; David J. Reed, partner, Granite Bay Ventures 5. Dunmore Croftwood LLC, $365,863; Sidney B. Dunmore, Granite Bay * in bankruptcy – Source: Placer County Tax Assessor’s Office, CA Secretary of State’s Office