The Public Eye: Property assessments at the heart of budget cuts for Sacramento region

Published: Sunday, Jul. 15, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Saturday, Aug. 25, 2012 - 11:12 pm

If you want to understand why local governments have laid off workers and struggled to maintain services, just look at property taxes.

In the past four years, Sacramento County real estate has lost $19 billion in assessed value, data from the Sacramento County assessor's office show.

That means that the county's secured tax roll now stands at $113.7 billion, down from $132.7 billion – the peak recorded in January 2008. And it translates to sharply reduced tax revenue for local governments, schools and special districts.

No place in the Sacramento region has been immune from the combined effects of the down economy and the loss in property values, though the story is less severe these days in El Dorado, Yolo and Placer counties.

In Sacramento County, Natomas and Rio Linda are recording a disproportionate share of the ongoing decline in property values.

However, east Sacramento, Fair Oaks and Rancho Murieta are doing better, said Sacramento County Assessor Kathleen Kelleher, who described those areas as stable.

Kelleher said she doubts broad recovery can take hold until the unemployment rate shows significant improvement – it's now at 10.4 percent in the region – and the supply of foreclosed homes diminishes.

Foreclosures and other distressed sales have been driving property values down in much of Sacramento County.

This year, the volume of homes foreclosed is averaging about 600 a month in Sacramento County, Kelleher said. "Last year, we were averaging about 1,000 foreclosures a month," she said.

Placer, Yolo and El Dorado counties are seeing more modest declines in property values. In each of those counties, the secured tax roll fell this year by less than a half-percent.

Sacramento County's decline, by comparison, was 2.8 percent.

So, you might wonder, where is the good news? Homeowners might look at property tax bills for a bit of fiscal consolation.

Here's why: There are 460,000 parcels in Sacramento County.

A remarkable 220,000 of them have assessed values that have been lowered for this year.

None of the parcels saw gains, Kelleher said.

Translation: The vast majority of those tax bills will be lower in the new tax cycle.

The properties are being taxed under a California law that requires counties to reassess properties when market value falls below the assessed value.

In Placer County, about 82,000 properties are now subject to value reductions – close to half the county's 170,000-property inventory.

In El Dorado County, 30 percent of all real property this year has attained similar status.

All other properties are taxed under Proposition 13, California's landmark tax reform measure passed in 1978. Proposition 13 sets a property's purchase price as the base value and allows that value to rise by the rate of inflation, up to 2 percent each year.

This tax cycle, the inflation factor is exactly 2 percent. That assessed value is then taxed at 1 percent.

Property tax bills will arrive in the mail this fall.

To see Sacramento County tax bills online, go to www.saccounty.net/propertytaxes.

For Placer County, visit www.placer.ca.gov and visit "property taxes" from the drop-down menu.

And for El Dorado County, view your tax bill at www.edcgov.us/taxcollector.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Loretta Kalb



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