160 Besant Road
Post Office Box 97
Ojai, CA 93023
Ventura County Assessor
800 South Victoria Avenue
Ventura, CA 93009
Dear County Assessor:
The enclosed notice from you has concerned me so that I've carried it around in alarm, showing it to various intelligent friends in the vain hope that someone might understand it and explain it to me. It's so intimidating—"IMPORTANT NOTICE," with all the boldface and italics and capitals and things. I'm especially anxious about the line that says, "If a property owner is deceased, please enter name and date of death." Now, I know I'm the taxpayer, but I thought when I died I wouldn't have to do that kind of stuff anymore. Should I carry a copy of the form around with me, in case I don't have one when and where I need it?
Anyhow, the dire consequences of my possible failure to comply come through well enough. You're going to nail me if I'm not good and comply with your notice, right? And it looks like you've got me, since I can't figure out what I'm supposed to comply with or what you want me to do or not do.
Let me get this straight. If I fail to notify you that I don't qualify for the exemption, you're going to cancel my exemption, right? Then you're going to bill me for the amount of the exemption plus penalties and interest, right? Fine, except I still can't figure out what it means. Is it true, then, that if I do notify you that I don't qualify, then you don't cancel my exemption? Seems strange to me, but I never could keep up with you tax people. Anyhow, please be notified of my non-failure to fail to notify you that I don't qualify for this exemption (if I don't). And please don't cancel my exemption if I'm exempt, nor bill me with penalties and interest, okay?
Hey, you're my tax assessor. Don't you know if I'm exempt or not? I thought you were supposed to know such things. Frankly, I haven't the vaguest idea. I have drawers full of government notices and forms and threats going back for so many years I just can't keep track any more. I really haven't a clue as to what this exemption thing is about, when it happened or didn't happen, or where I might find a notice of filing or non-filing of exemption or non-exemption, as the case may be, whereof, to wit.
Another question occurs to me. If I didn't notify you, how would you know to cancel my exemption and fine and penalize me and things? It's all so confusing. A friend even suggested that you're really trying to find out if I live here, since maybe living in my home has something to do with this exemption, the way your form starts out. Honest, is that what you want to know? If so, it's sort of an unusual way to ask. In case that's it, why yes, Mr. County Assessor, I live here. Just like it says on your tax records. Have for years. Even at 12:01 a.m., March 1, 1983. Your form says, "If at 12:01 a.m., March 1, 1983, you DO NOT QUALIFY for this exemption, please complete this form.…"(I wasn't supposed to set my alarm or anything, was I? I mean, that being a working day and all, I got to bed pretty early, and you did say I had until July 1 to mail it.)
Anyhow, I do live here. Wife and kids, too. Same place your tax payments get mailed from. (Sent you one at the end of March.) Same place you sent this notice to. Hey, if you thought I didn't live here anymore, how come you sent the notice to me at this address? Oh, never mind.
And about your notice form—it's not too bright, really. Someone's porch light is definitely flickering. Yours? Before sending the next notice, try screwing in the bulb tighter.
Charles Kelley is a taxpayer.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Taking the Taxman to Task".