For fire victims, there may be at least one measure of relief on the horizon: lower taxes -- or at least delayed taxes.
County assessors and tax collectors are offering to defer and reduce property taxes for those whose homes suffered damage. In addition, the state government may put off demanding payment of state income and other state taxes.
Homeowners and business owners who suffered at least $10,000 in property damage can have their homes reassessed, which can reduce the amount of taxes they will owe, officials said.
The property owners can also request to defer payment of the first tax installment, normally due Dec. 10. Those whose homes were destroyed will be liable for taxes on their land, officials said. The mechanism for the relief varies a bit from county to county, with some requiring separate applications for the reassessment and the tax deferment.
Los Angeles County Assessor Rick Auerbach said his office will send out claim forms to known affected property owners and expects to complete reassessments within about three weeks.
"We're going to know all the properties that are damaged. And as soon as it's safe, my staff will go out and take a look," he said.
Auerbach said property owners who are reassessed will automatically receive an extension of 30 to 60 days without having to apply.
Fire victims should contact their local tax assessors for more information.
* Los Angeles County, (213) 974-3211; (310) 665-5413 for Malibu residents; (818) 833-6194 for North County area residents or assessor.lacounty.gov.
* Ventura County, (805) 654-2181 or www.assessor.countyof ventura.org.
* Orange County, (714) 834-2727 or http://www.ocgov.com/assessor.
* San Diego County, (858) 505-6262 or www.sdarcc.com.
* San Bernardino County, (909) 389-8307 or -8308 or http://www.sbcounty.gov.
* Riverside County, (951) 955-6200 or http://riverside.asrclkrec.com.
Sales and other taxes
The State Board of Equalization said it too will give taxpayers a bit of a break.
Business owners, who typically must pay taxes on Oct. 31, will receive a one-month extension to file those taxes, which include: sales, fuel use, alcoholic beverage, cigarette and tobacco taxes, and hazardous waste fees.
All business owners who live or own businesses in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties who can't meet the deadline because of the wildfires will be eligible for the extension, officials said.
In addition, business owners can apply for relief of penalties and interest for late payments if they are caused by the fire. For instance, some business owners' records may have been destroyed, making it difficult for them to determine how much tax they collected, said board member Judy Chu.
For more information, contact the agency at www.boe.ca.gov or (800) 400-7115.
Fire victims may apply for quick income tax refunds to help cover their losses. The Franchise Tax Board will allow those affected by the fires to file amended 2006 returns with their disaster losses. Doing so will allow for quicker returns, putting money in the taxpayers' pockets sooner.
Taxpayers who aren't in a hurry can claim their losses on their 2007 tax returns, which are due in April.
For forms or more information, contact the agency at www.ftb.ca.gov or (800) 852-5711.