California tax assessments of homes to go down…

If you own a home in California, chances are the assessed value of your property just dropped.

County assessors statewide are releasing this year’s property tax rolls – the total assessed value of all properties in a given county – and most are lower than last year.

Sacramento County’s tax roll dropped nearly 2.2 percent to $128.8 billion. Yolo County’s is down about 1.9 percent. And El Dorado County and Placer County both saw the value of their taxable property drop more than 6 percent.

The falling values represent good news for many homeowners, who will see lower property tax bills this October.

However, the second straight year of shrinking tax rolls is another blow to local governments that rely on property tax revenue to fund programs and services.

“It’s a significant hit,” said Mike Applegarth, a principal analyst in El Dorado County. “It translates into people (losing their jobs). It takes people to deliver services.”

Last year marked the first time most counties saw property tax rolls drop since voters approved Proposition 13 in 1978. That’s because the market value of many properties dropped below the assessed value. In such cases Proposition 8 – a tax measure passed as a companion to Proposition 13 – requires assessors to temporarily lower the taxable value of properties until the market value climbs again.

Market values have continued to plummet, and as a result, most county assessors have continued to lower the taxable value of properties in their region.

Sacramento County Assessor Ken Stieger’s office just lowered the assessed value of another 38,000 properties. In all, owners of nearly 154,000 Sacramento County properties are paying less in taxes because the market value is below the previous assessed value.

This year, there is a second factor at work as well. Under state law, counties are allowed to raise property taxes by up to 2 percent a year as long as the overall cost of goods and services is rising – in other words, during periods of inflation. In a time of deflation – when the costs of goods and services are falling – they are required to lower property taxes.

For the first time since 1978, that scenario is playing out. So even homeowners whose property is still worth more than when they bought it will see a quarter percent decrease from last year in its assessed value. That should amount to $2.60 less in taxes per $100,000 of assessed value, according to the State Board of Equalization.

“It’s the first time ever since Proposition 13 and probably the last time in our lifetime,” Stieger said.

The new property tax information comes weeks after counties and cities passed their fiscal year 2010-11 budgets. The question now: How well did local governments do in projecting property tax revenue when they passed those spending plans?

El Dorado County, for example, budgeted for a 4 percent drop in property tax but likely will see a 6.2 percent decrease. As a result, that county is facing an unexpected shortfall of $1.5 million in the fiscal year that started July 1.

Homeowners should see the impact of the newly assessed values in their October tax bills. But not everyone will see a decrease in what they owe, said Ron Thomsen, president of the California Assessors’ Association.

That’s because many residents are in areas with special assessments or levies that will increase this year. Also, the figures are based on the value of a property as of Jan. 1. This means any drop in market value since that date won’t be reflected.

Owners who want to see the assessed value of their property can visit their county assessor’s website. Many counties will conduct informal reviews if property owners dispute the assessed value. Owners can file an appeal until the end of November.

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