Inter-Departmental Correspondence

County Counsel



January 5, 2011


January 25, 2011







Honorable Board of Supervisors


Michael P. Murphy, County Counsel


Claim for Refund of Property Taxes on behalf of Sprint PCS



Deny the claim for refund for Sprint’s State Board-allocated unitary assessment for 2008.



Sprint PCS is a corporation subject to State Board of Equalization ("SBE") assessment valuation under the California Constitution rather than being subject to assessment by a county assessor. The assessment is based on the statewide unitary property held by the corporation in the State of California rather than a county by county valuation system. The SBE initially assessed the property of Sprint PCS for the January 2008 lien date at $2,546,100,000. As the result of an appeal by the taxpayer, the SBE ultimately assessed Sprint PCS at $2,039,700,000. This revised assessment was subsequently prorated by the SBE to all counties containing property held by Sprint PCS in varying percentages and each county must collect its share of the overall property tax bill through the county tax collector's process. San Mateo County billed and collected $1,372,460.80 from Sprint PCS for tax year 2008 based upon the revised state assessment.


The next step for a dissatisfied state assessee is to file an administrative tax refund claim with the SBE and, upon denial of the claim, file a Revenue and Taxation Code section 5148 tax refund complaint naming the SBE and all counties collecting tax revenue in the complaint. Counties collecting the tax revenue do not normally receive tax refund claims from state assessees.



This tax refund claim is procedurally unusual. In this instance, Sprint PCS did not file the required section 5148 tax refund claim with the SBE after that agency partially granted Sprint PCS' appeal in December of 2008. The SBE legal staff opined that where a state assessee does not timely submit a tax refund claim to the SBE, the state assessee must individually submit tax refund claims to all counties responsible for collecting a portion of the tax revenue generated by the state assessment before a section 5148 tax refund complaint may be filed in court. Sprint PCS has filed individual tax refund claims with fifty-one counties, including San Mateo County. The claim is the same in all counties. Not all counties have responded to the claim, but those that have responded have either denied the claim or indicated to Sprint PCS that the County Board of Supervisors has no authority to grant or deny a state assessee tax refund claim.


The Sprint PCS claim does not state the preferred unitary assessment figure of Sprint PCS – only that an additional reduction should be computed. The County does not know exactly how the SBE appraisers (and the SBE Board on appeal) arrived at the enrolled state-wide value of $2,039,700,000 and it is impossible for the County to determine a potential refund amount. The recommended denial is based upon the inability at this time to determine the basis upon which Sprint PCS was assessed by the State Board of Equalization or the merits of the Sprint PCS claim.


Denying the tax refund claim will contribute to the Shared Vision 2025 outcome of collaborative community by supporting fiscal accountability.



No fiscal impact is anticipated, unless the claim for refund is granted.