music in the park san jose

GILROY – The State Board of Equalization – California
’s tax assessing arm – is firmly denying claims by county
officials that a decision to grant hundreds of thousands of dollars
of tax relief to Bonfante Gardens theme park was a political
move.
GILROY – The State Board of Equalization – California’s tax assessing arm – is firmly denying claims by county officials that a decision to grant hundreds of thousands of dollars of tax relief to Bonfante Gardens theme park was a political move.

State Board of Equalization Division Chief Jerri Dale characterized comments made by the county tax assessor’s office as “inaccurate.” The county tax assessor’s office claimed the state has a “history of giving away the tax roll” for political reasons after it became clear the two levels of government differed vastly on the amount of property tax exemption Bonfante Gardens could receive.

Dale said the Board of Equalization – which is an elected body – based its decision on staff recommendations which were made after visiting the park and after receiving information from park officials.

“The board voted on the merits of the information presented. They weren’t handing out political favors,” Dale said.

County officials, however, stuck to their claims.

“I don’t care what they say, the fact is they are a political body, and they operate in the realm of political motivation,” County Tax Assessor Larry Stone said.

Stone said the state’s original report on Bonfante Gardens property tax exemptions – which the park appealed – was “almost identical” to the county’s. However, after political maneuvering, a second report changed dramatically.

“I had the board’s political staff calling me and asking me why we weren’t trying to negotiate a solution,” Stone said. “(Negotiating a solution) is not the role of the assessor. I don’t think it should be the role of the State Board (of Equalization) either.”

The Hecker Pass Highway horticultural amusement park is facing a nearly $1 million annual property tax bill for 2003-04, plus a nearly $50,000 late fee for the payment that was due Dec. 10. The park owes at least another $1 million in property taxes for the previous year.

Bonfante Gardens was hoping to get exemption on hundreds of thousands of dollars of property taxes. The park is eligible for tax relief because it is a nonprofit corporation serving educational purposes. When nonprofits want to exercise their property tax exemption rights, the State Board of Equalization and the county tax assessor’s office determine how much property can exist tax-free.

The county cannot exceed the property tax exemptions set by the state. However, the county does have the right to exempt less than what the state recommends. In Bonfante Gardens’ case, the county exempted much less. Across 18 general areas of the amusement park – such as gardens, rides, and gift shops – the county and state disagree on nine.

It is unknown right now how large the dollar difference would be since the county only has assessed the overall value of the park and not the components exempt from property taxes. The current assessed value of the overall park is $84 million. Properties are taxed at roughly 1.15 percent of their assessed value.

Bonfante Gardens officials say that if a larger property tax exemption is not granted, the park’s turnaround will be seriously hampered.

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.

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