Reflecting the area's soaring economy and heated real estate market, the assessed value of property in Ventura County posted its largest annual increase in 21 years to a record high of nearly $51 billion.
Officials at the county assessor's office said the 6.9% uptick for this fiscal year--the greatest since a 21% hike in 1978--is a result of several factors, including new construction, high employment, low interest rates and increasingly valuable real estate.
"Things are starting to turn around, and Ventura County is, again, a growing area," said Daryl Brown, the county's chief deputy assessor. "Over the past year there has been a tremendous amount of turnaround in [home] sales, and that's just been increasing."
Altogether, the county will collect taxes based on $50.9 billion in assessed property value this fiscal year, up 14% since 1996-97 when assessments totaled $44.5 billion.
Little of the recent increase in overall value resulted from assessment of homes that no longer qualified for tax shelter under Proposition 13, Brown said.
In fact, about 10% of the 70,000 properties shielded by the proposition were reassessed to their current market value because of resales, he said.
Most of the gain is attributed to increased residential real estate sales and prices.
"Commercial real estate contributed, but the county doesn't have so much of that," Brown said. "It's really been the sale of homes."
Most property tax revenues, about 52%, will fund schools. The rest will be funneled through the state and into county coffers and special districts to fund everything from health services to public works projects.
All cities in the county posted some increase in assessed property values. The greatest gains in assessed property values were found in Simi Valley, Camarillo and Thousand Oaks.
Simi Valley's assessment roll bolted up by more than 10% from the start of the 1998-99 fiscal year to about $7 billion. Assessments in Thousand Oaks grew by about 7.5% to nearly $12 billion, and in Camarillo they increased by almost 11% to $5 billion.
Santa Paula posted the smallest increase in tax rolls, inching up 3.2% to about $885 million.
Assessments in Oxnard increased 3.7% to about $6.6 billion, and in Ventura they increased 5.3% to $6 billion.
"That's really very consistent with the kinds of increases we've seen in median [home] prices and the market activity," said Mark Schniepp, director of the UC Santa Barbara Economic Forecast Project. "Property is in demand there and there's a real shortage of it, so it's not surprising that we're seeing this kind of growth, particularly with all that's going on in the market now."
Since 1997, Ventura County's real estate market has emerged as one of the tightest and most active in Southern California.
From 1997 to 1998, home sales increased 24%, more than double the statewide average of 9.6%.
Median selling prices for homes followed similarly during that same period, increasing more than 7%, which helped make 1998 the best year for home appreciation since 1989.
Although some economists had predicted home sales and the overall economy to begin slowing this year, there has been little sign of it so far.
According to Schniepp, from May 1998 to May 1999, home sales climbed another 4.8%. And in the first six months of 1999, median home prices have jumped 10% to about $252,000.
County officials and economists both believed that property tax rolls could continue to increase next year if real estate activity holds at or near its current levels.
"I think it's safe to assume that there will be some slowing at some point," Schniepp said. "But, I would characterize that as a downturn. . . . It will still be relatively robust."