By Sue McAllister
Posted: 08/28/2009 06:26:35 PM PDTUpdated: 08/29/2009 04:00:48 AM PDT
Santa Clara County Assessor Larry Stone said about 34,000 homeowners had requested informal reviews of their assessed values, nearly four times the number of requests in 2008. Nearly half of the 29,000 his office was able to process received tax cuts.
And that came after more than 90,000 property owners in the county were notified in late June that they would receive average tax relief of about $2,000 because of reduced home values.
The assessment reductions so far total nearly $19 billion, Stone said, cutting the county's budget by about $40 million.
Despite focusing his entire staff on reviewing those 34,000 assessments, Stone said, there were nearly 5,000 requests that could not be finished before a Monday deadline, when the information needs to be sent to the county tax collector. For homeowners whose requests weren't finished, the only option is to file a formal appeal, which requires a $30 fee.
"All of these property owners filed their requests by the deadline of August 15 and should not be penalized," Stone argued.
In a special session late Friday afternoon to address the issue, the county board of supervisors voted 4-0 to waive the $30 appeal fee for the 5,000 homeowners caught up in the bureaucratic snarl.
"Although it will cost us some money as a county, we think it's really important to those who have applied and simply got left out because they (the assessor's office) couldn't get to everyone in time," said Liz Kniss, president of the board of supervisors. "It's really in the interest of fairness and cost to them that we are doing it."
Under a 1978 property tax law known as Proposition 8, if the market value of a property falls below the assessed value assigned by the county, the owner can receive a temporary tax reduction. A home's assessed value is usually the purchase price plus increases of no more than 2 percent a year. The property tax bill is based on the home's assessed value; tax rates are capped by law at 1 percent, plus any amount to cover voter-approved bond indebtedness, such as school district bonds.
Santa Clara County is one of the few counties in California in which owners are notified of their properties' assessed value before they receive their tax bills. In June, Stone's office sent notices to all residential and commercial property owners telling them the assessed values of those properties, which is based on their worth as of Jan. 1, 2009.
Stone said many owners mistakenly think they are eligible for a tax reduction because their home value has fallen compared with its peak. But it's not peak value that matters: To qualify, a property's market value as of Jan. 1, 2009, must be lower than its assessed value.
Those who still feel their properties are assessed too high have until Sept. 15 to file a formal appeal application with the assessment appeals board. By law, those appeals must be decided within two years. While that process takes place, property owners must continue to pay the taxes they owe based on their existing assessment. If the appeals board later agrees the assessment was too high, the taxpayer will get a refund of the overpaid taxes.
For more information on Proposition 8 assessment reductions and the appeal process, visit ?www.sccassessor.org.
Contact Sue McAllister at 408-920-5833.