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My humble assessment

Submitted by on 1, July 23, 2008 – 7:45 amNo Comment

This past weekend, we got a letter from the county informing us that we were among the 44,000 or so lucky property owners in Alameda County getting a break on our taxes for the coming year. But my husband and I had to stop mid-end zone dance when we realized a kind of important fact: Our tax dollars are actually used to pay for stuff. Like public safety. And libraries. And parks. Would our city be able to continue paying for these vital services with less money than they’re accustomed to getting from us?

Well, it turns out that the money they’re not taking from my husband and I, they’ll collect from someone else: Despite the apocalyptic real estate market we’re in, the assessed value of property in Alameda actually rose over the last year, by almost 6 percent, according to the assessor’s figures.

So how did that happen?

First off, only a relatively small number of properties in this county were even considered for the tax break: Around 70,000 purchased between July 1, 2004 and December 31, 2007 (those who got the break had assessed values that were higher than fair market value as of January 1), and some others whose assessments already dropped. So if the value of your property dropped $50,000 on January 2, you’ll be waiting until next year to see any resulting tax break.

Secondly, even in this market, a lot more property got built and changed hands than got reassessed, says Brian Hitomi, chief of the assessor’s appraisal division. And we all know happens when a house that someone has owned 20 or 30 years gets sold.

The city’s not in the clear just yet: With things being as bad as they are, the county’s likely to get a lot of assessment appeals (ask anyone at the assessor’s office how they are and the answer will be “busy”). If a lot of those get granted, the city’s budget picture could be a little less balanced. (Property taxes are the city’s #1 revenue source.) City leaders have already made adjustments to next year’s budget in anticipation of a 1 percent decline in property tax dollars, Deputy City Manager Lisa Goldman said.

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