San Mateo County officials engaged in a yearslong dispute with Genentech over property tax assessments are celebrating what they call a victory after a Superior Court judge affirmed the Assessor’s Office’s valuation of the biotech giant’s machinery and equipment in a decision rendered last month.
By siding with county officials arguing that capitalized labor as well as debugging and testing costs, among others, should be included in the value of Genentech’s equipment over a period spanning 2000 to 2005, the court has allowed county officials who say they’ve fielded nearly three decades of property tax assessments appeals from the company to preserve an estimated $9.5 million in property tax revenue, a figure that includes interest. Because Genentech included the costs in its federal Securities and Exchange Commission filings, the court and county officials argue, “there is nothing unfair or inappropriate about including costs that were appropriately capitalized for financial purposes into the valuation of an asset for tax purposes,” according to the decision.
County Counsel John Beiers is hoping the court’s ruling makes the company reconsider its practice of extreme litigiousness, a business model he said siphons resources from county residents.
“Genentech’s long-standing modus operandi is to contest each and every county tax assessment of their properties dating back approximately 30 years,” he said in a prepared statement, adding the company currently has more than 650 unresolved appeals dating back to 2000. “Maybe this decision will be a wake-up call to change its ‘litigate first’ corporate tax culture.”
But the South San Francisco-based company — which has paid the highest amount in local property taxes — is not ready to give in yet. In a motion for a new trial slated to be heard July 12, the company has asked the court to overturn its decision, according to Lead Deputy County Counsel Rebecca Archer. Amanda Fallon, associate director of corporate relations for Genentech, said in an email the company is committed to contributing to the local community and its focus is on paying what the company believes is legally owed to the county.
“Genentech is one of San Mateo County’s largest property taxpayers and is committed to contributing positively to the local economy and community — both through our business operations and our philanthropic initiatives,” she said. “Our goal is to pay the amount of tax we believe is legally owed.”
The lawsuit filed by the county is far from the first time it has clashed with Genentech, which took the county to court in February to contest the method used to depreciate the biotech company’s assets during the same time period and seek refunds and interest totaling $15.3 million.
Though the disputes over inclusion of the costs and depreciation have been reviewed by the San Mateo County Assessment Appeals Board, an independent review panel, both Genentech and the county have taken each other to county to overturn aspects of the board’s previous decision.
Archer said the company’s appeals — which also include appeals to its land and improvements assessments — are often without merit and have created a backlog for county officials. She is hoping the ruling encourages the company to come to the table with county officials and determine ground rules on how the assessments should be done.
“The hope is that Genentech will understand that it should really be working with the county on these assessment appeals and not treating everything as though it’s oppositional,” she said.
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