Dozens of Contra Costa public agencies may receive a rude surprise if they are asked to refund property tax money owed to Chevron Corp. because the county overassessed its Richmond refinery.

The oil giant is negotiating with county Assessor Gus Kramer over how much of the $17.8 million in overpayments will have to be repaid.

Unless Chevron agrees to cancel the debt, the refund will be spread across cities, schools, fire protection and sanitary districts and a host of smaller agencies.

The county general fund is due to take a $1.84 million hit, and the San Ramon Valley Unified School District will have to part with $1.02 million, according to a breakout prepared by the county auditor's office.

The amounts range from a high of $1.88 million for the Education Revenue Augmentation Fund, a pool of property tax money for primary and secondary schools, to less than $100 for several small agencies.

The potential bill for the San Ramon Valley schools came as a surprise, said district spokesman Terry Koehne, who added that now would be the worst possible time. The district is trying to cope with a $30 million budget shortfall over the next two years and has just issued preliminary layoff notices to 159 teachers. It also may have to eliminate 77 part-time teaching positions.

"This would be like pouring salt in the wound," he said.

The state must reimburse schools for shortfalls in property tax revenue, but its financial picture could make that problematic, said Peggy Marshburn, spokeswoman for the Contra Costa Office of Education.

The Central Contra Costa Sanitary District also was unaware that it may have to pay, spokesman Michael Scahill said. The district could owe as much as $122,250.

"We'll be waiting for a letter from the auditor's office about this," he said.

The Contra Costa County Fire Protection District plans to pay the $912,721 it may owe from its $13.4 million reserve fund, Interim Chief John Ross said.

"We're hoping that the negotiations are successful to minimize the amount," he said.

Chevron realizes that the county and most agencies are having financial difficulties, company spokesman Brent Tippen said.

"Chevron wants a fair and open process, working with the assessor to create a process that works for everyone," he said.

The company agreed to suspend interest charges on the principal from Jan. 25 until the end of this month. Since county leaders do not want the interest payments to resume, the money — depending on what Kramer negotiates — should be due and payable soon, county Administrator David Twa said.

Kramer declined to comment on the negotiations.

"Eventually, we're going to have to come up with the money," Twa said. "When and what the final numbers are will be forthcoming."

No matter how the issue is settled, there is likely to be more pain.

The refunds are for the 2003 through 2006 tax years. Chevron also is appealing its refinery assessment for 2006 through 2009. If the property tax appeals board settles the second appeal on the same terms, the county and agencies could be liable for as much as $50 million in additional repayments, Twa said.

"The new refunds would be much higher and there will be negative impacts (from a lower assessment) going forward," he said.

Contact Rick Radin at 925-952-5053.

MONEY GOING BACK
What county, agencies may owe Chevron
K-12 Education Revenue Augmentation Fund: $1,881,246
Contra Costa County general fund: $1,840,915
San Ramon Valley Unified School District: $1,019,564
Mount Diablo Unified School District: $930,721
Contra Costa County Fire Protection District: $912,721
West Contra Costa Unified School District: $720,564
Contra Costa Community College District: $679,379
San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District: $457,927
Source: Contra Costa County