Sean Janssen, The Union Democrat

What if county government presented property owners with an opportunity to make their case for a lower tax bill but nobody came?

That very thing happened just last month as 10 appeals of real estate parcel assessments were scheduled to be heard Oct. 16 by the Calaveras County Assessment Appeals Board, but none of the appellants showed.

Deputy County Clerk John Funk said no one so much as called to say they would not be able to make it.

"That's the history, that's the nature of the beast, the way it has been," Funk told the county's Board of Supervisors Tuesday.

The board unanimously approved a new policy requiring applicants, who can have their property tax bill reduced if the appointed board agrees their land has been overvalued, to provide written confirmation that they will attend at least 21 days prior to their scheduled hearing date.

County Assessor Leslie Davis requested the change, saying the existing arrangement "is unacceptable as it wastes valuable staff time and county resources."

For example, the five board members were each paid for their attendance at the effectively canceled meeting. They earn $35 for half-day meetings and $65 for full-day hearings. That comes on top of staff time in the Assessor's Office and Clerk/Recorder's Office to prepare for the hearings.

Davis said the most common no-show case occurs when someone has a question or misunderstanding about their assessment and files an appeal rather than calling her office. The confusion is often cleared up, she said, but the applicants still do not formally withdraw their appeal.

"The people who really want to make an appeal typically show up or will ask for a postponement," she said.

With the new rule in place, staffers will not take the time to get ready for the appeals where the applicant did not confirm ahead of time. If they do show up, their appeal can be postponed for a hearing at a later date. Otherwise, the procedure is to deny appeals where the applicant does notappear. Davis said exceptions apply when there is a valid reason not to make it, such as an appellant being snowed in by a sudden storm.

The no-show problem is not unique to Calaveras County, according to Davis, although the October hearing was the first where not one applicant arrived as scheduled.

She said problems with assessment appeals have been a topic of conversation at recent statewide meetings ofCalifornia county assessors with some counties reporting no-shows as high as 90 percent.

Those that have introduced confirmed appearance rules have dramatically reduced the unnecessary waste of staff time, Davis said.

The Board of Supervisors created the Assessment Appeals Board in 2009 to handle a backlog of appeals that supervisors had been hearing as the county's Board of Equalization.

A majority approved the measure, citing the superior knowledge required of a separate appeals board, whose members must have certain real estate background qualifications, as well as the lengthy sessions the appeals created for supervisors' meetings.