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The Examiner

 

June 14, 2005

 

By Nat Friedland

 

 

County property assessment jumps 8.75 percent

Extra $90 million avoids cuts to county services

 

 

REDWOOD CITY — With an 8.75 percent hike in assessed valuation for 2004, the Peninsula's booming residential real estate market is pumping $90 million more than last year into county government coffers.

 

The rosy property assessment roll is largely responsible for San Mateo County's proposed $111 million spending increase in its $1.45 billion fiscal 2005-06 budget, which will undergo three days of hearings June 27 to 29.

 

"This is the first time in several years that we haven't needed to cut departmental budgets," said County Manager John Maltbie. "Local revenues and job creation are starting to rebound, and there has been some improvement in state funding."

 

Maltbie's biggest remaining worry is the federal deficit. He believes it could result in millions of dollars in cuts to health and human services funding, which would impact charity care expenses at the county hospital and long-term care facility.

 

The total county assessed valuation was $104 billion last year, and it is projected to rise another $9 billion in 2005. California counties get to keep 14 percent of the property taxes they collect.

 

Last Friday, County Assessor Warren Slocum's office began mailing 180,000 property owners early notification letters listing their 2005 assessment valuation. Most assessments rise 2 percent annually, the maximum allowed by state Proposition 13.

 

"We haven't mailed out early letters for a few years, it takes a lot of advance coordination," said Deputy Assessor Angelina Hunter. "But June notification gives the property owners time to review their new assessment before they get a property tax bill in the fall."

 

Starting Monday, the Assessor's Office will set up a temporary phone bank to answer questions from homeowners confused about the assessment letter.

 

"We had about 125 calls in the first few hours," said senior appraiser Joan DeMartis. "A lot of people just wanted to know how the new valuation would affect their taxes."

 

The phone bank operators explained to callers that the property tax is 1 percent of assessed valuation, plus any city taxes and minus any exemptions.

 

No fan of property tax increases, county Libertarian Party Chair Jack Hickey said a $90 million hike in property tax revenues sounded like a lot of money.

 

"So why can't the county fix our parks without considering a new one-eighth cent sales tax?" Hickey asked.

 

Deputy County Manager Mary McMillan responded that more than 65 percent of the property taxes go toward required education expenditures within the county.

 

The Assessor's Office's temporary phone number to answer questions by homeowners is (650) 286-2800.

 

E-mail: nfriedland@examiner.com