More than 54,000 Ventura County homeowners and businesses will receive tax breaks this year as real estate property values continue to drag in a slowly recovering economy.
Despite an increase in residential sales, property values countywide rose only 1.48%, the smallest increase since the Proposition 13 tax rollback of 1978, county officials said Tuesday.
New construction and sales of older residences accounted for the minimal gain the market posted in the fiscal year that ended June 30, Chief Deputy Assessor Daryl R. Brown said.
But in many neighborhoods, where property sales have brought disappointingly low prices, the county is reducing values and, with them, tax bills. Owners should receive notices next week if their property assessments have dropped.
"We have reduced better than a quarter of the houses in the county," Brown said. "We're not being slouches. We're looking everywhere we can."
This year's reductions come in spite of an increase in real estate transactions around the region. In the first three months of 1994, the county's housing sales were up 54% from the same period a year earlier, according to the UC Santa Barbara Economic Forecast Project.
"There's certainly a lot more home sales and turnover of property, but the values are dropping," said Mark Schniepp, director of the project. Simply put, properties overpriced in the 1980s are selling for less than their assessed value.
County budget planners say they were expecting no increase when assessors closed the tax roll for the fiscal year.
"We were just hoping it would be an increase, that it would be over zero," said Bert Bigler, the county's budget director. "It's just one more problem the board has to deal with."
Once a reliable source of local funding, property tax revenues have stagnated or dropped in California's recent recession. Compounding the problem, the state began taking the revenue from local governments and giving it to school districts.
That leaves counties, including Ventura County, scrambling to find funds to pay for human services and criminal justice agencies. In its proposed budget, to be released today, the county must reconcile a $16-million deficit, plus $10 million in state cuts.
The real problems began for the county in 1978, when Proposition 13 forced communities to roll back property tax values to their 1975-1976 levels. After that, property assessments could only be increased when the real estate changed hands.
Even so, a building boom and a prosperous economy meant continued growth for Ventura County's tax base. The value of property climbed 17.1% in the 1981-1982 fiscal year and 13.5% in 1990-1991.
But job losses in defense and manufacturing industries stalled the county's economy, and its real estate market stagnated. Economists predict some growth in the year ahead, but say the county must deal with a net loss of 6,600 jobs.
Details of assessment rolls show the biggest drops in property value occurred around Santa Paula and Ventura. In both cases, the assessors registered declines in the mineral values on some property, as stores of natural resources have been steadily depleted, Brown said.
All cities except Camarillo saw slight increases. Port Hueneme experienced a 6% jump, largely because property once exempted from taxes is now back on the tax rolls. Also, the Cuyama Joint Union region, in the mountainous northwestern portion of the county, saw a 14% jump in value, largely due to new construction.
The Ventura County assessor's office Monday will mail notices to every homeowner and business whose property has declined in value. The "temporary value reduction" also applies to many properties reduced in past years. Property owners dissatisfied with their assessment can complain to the Assessment Appeals Board. Contact the county clerk and recorder, 800 S. Victoria Ave., Ventura 93009.
Property Values Although assessments went down for many homes, the total assessed value of property went up in most Ventura County cities thanks to construction and other factors.
City % change Port Hueneme +6.04 Moorpark +3.87 Thousand Oaks +3.17 Fillmore +2.59 Oxnard +2.11 Simi Valley +2.02 Santa Paula +1.53 Ojai +0.39 Ventura +0.10 Camarillo -0.20 Countywide +1.48
Source: Ventura County assessor's office