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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Realtors Doubt Expected Property Tax Hikes Will Hurt Sales

March 30, 2000|GARY POLAKOVIC and CATHERINE BLAKE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

What goes down must go up, or so it will be for thousands of Ventura County property owners facing higher property taxes this year for gains realized through booming real estate values, officials said Wednesday.

Tax increases could be as high as 25%, though most will be less than half that gain, for nearly 40,000 property owners.

It is a turnabout from the early '90s when property prices plummeted and thousands of parcels were reassessed downward. During those years, 75,000 landowners got a tax break, but those days have come to an end.

Realtors say the higher tax bills shouldn't curb the steady demand for homes, which pushed median prices up 8.7% in 1999.

"We might see a little bit of a deceleration in the market, but not a complete halt," said Kay Wilson-Bolton, president of Ventura County Coastal Assn. of Realtors.

"The good news," said Dan Goodwin, Ventura County assessor, "is the strong economy has restored equity to thousands of property owners who were hurt by the slump in the market. The bad news is the assessor is required to restore the assessments."

Come July, notices of reassessed property values are expected to arrive in mailboxes. About 38,000 owners will be affected this year and another 21,000 will be affected next year, although it is too early to say what the amount of increase will be in 2001. The rest of the property owners subject to increased taxes were notified last year, Goodwin explained.

High-value properties will be most affected, including businesses, homes and industrial centers. Some of the highest valued properties include those owned by Amgen, Southern California Edison Co., and The Oaks mall in Thousand Oaks, Goodwin said.

"These are the biggest taxpayers, the commercial and industrial properties. There are no big, rich houses that are more valuable than these industrial properties," Goodwin said.

The assessor offered this example of an average single-family house in Newbury Park to illustrate the property tax roller coaster of recent years. The value of one house fell from its peak of $236,000 a decade ago to $195,000 in 1995, which resulted in property taxes of about $1,950, a 17.5% drop. But last year, the house was worth $220,000, so property taxes--not counting special assessments--will increase to about $2,200, about 12.8% higher.

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A robust economy and strong real estate sales boosted the assessed valuation of property in Ventura County by an estimated 7.5% last year--the largest single-year gain in 22 years.

A record $55-billion worth of private property in the county is expected to generate nearly $100 million in taxes for county government at a time when the county is trying to regain fiscal stability. That's a $6.4-million increase beyond 1998 receipts. Goodwin emphasized that his figures are forecasts; firm numbers will not be known until July 1.

Realtor Wilson-Bolton said it would take more than a tax increase to scare away buyers.

"There is still such a buying frenzy this will not have any great impact," she said, adding that last year was the best year in three decades for California real estate agents.

"People are still feeling positive, this is an election year and unemployment is low. I expect another big year in real estate sales," she said.

Mike Saliba, executive director of the Ventura County Taxpayers Assn., said the increases were no reason for alarm.

"The increased assessments just bring the level back up to where it would have been and it only affects those whose taxes came down during the early '90s anyway," he said. "It is perfectly legal and everything is according to the book."

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However, property owners can challenge the increased assessments if they think they are too high. Taxpayers can file an appeal and receive a hearing before a three-member appeals panel.

Supervisor John Flynn, who chairs the panel, said 20,000 property owners filed appeals in the past decade to have property taxes lowered. He expects some will object to a tax increase, but he urged people to take a wider view.

"I think if people had their preference, people would like to see [property] values maintained rather than go down."

Polakovic is a Times staff writer; Blake is a Times Community News reporter.

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