Taxes and Disney an up-and-down ride

Orange County repeatedly has trouble doing the math on what the resort owes.

By Christian Berthelsen
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
December 5, 2006

The Walt Disney Co. must be wondering if Orange County put Goofy in charge of tax collections.

After overestimating the value of Disney properties in Orange County, county officials issued refund checks to the company totaling more than $5 million.

But Disney officials discovered the county had sent the company too much -- about $3.9 million too much. Disney brought it to the county's attention two weeks ago and returned four checks issued by the county, officials said Monday.

The episode is the latest in a series of flawed assessments involving Disney properties. From 1994 through 1997, the county inflated Disneyland's property value by a total of $240 million, resulting in a refund of about $2.6 million. In one case, the county confused a ride being dismantled with one being built.

Webster Guillory, the county assessor, said the excess refund checks were issued because of a duplicate entry in the computer system.

"Between Disney and my office, we are correcting the error that was created," Guillory said.

A Disney spokesman said he did not have enough information to comment.

David Sundstrom, the county's auditor-controller, said Disney is the county's most complex taxpayer because frequent redesigns alter the value of its properties. Disney routinely appeals its tax bills.

"They're constantly building and rebuilding on the same property, so they have a lot of corrections," Sundstrom said. "That level of refund isn't a huge surprise."

After all this, Disney still is owed nearly $3.7 million from overvaluations separate from the other errors, county officials said. The checks aren't in the mail -- Sundstrom said the refunds will not go out until the tax roll errors have been corrected.
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