Mountain View Voice

News - May 28, 2010

County's property values plummet

Mountain View schools won't be harmed by revenue drop, officials say

by Martin Sanchez

Property values in Santa Clara have dropped for the upcoming year, but Mountain View schools avoided the loss of property taxes due to fortuitous budget circumstances, school district officials said.

The board of assessors announced May 20 that the county's properties had decreased an overall $21.4 billion in value for the upcoming 2010-2011 fiscal year — an unprecedented decline that could lead to a significant drop in property tax revenues for the county's school districts, County Assessor Larry Stone said.

The Mountain View-Los Altos High School District has estimated a half-percent drop in property tax revenue — or roughly $200,000 — for the upcoming fiscal year, according to associate superintendent Joe White. But a budget surplus stemming from money set aside for past property value appeals will likely offset much of the damage, he said.

Each year, property owners can appeal to lower their property values when assessments are released. Successful appeals will reduce a district's property tax revenues in the year that they are completed.

"Appeals go on their own track. You have appeals that go two or three years. It's complicated," assessor's office representative David Ginsborg said. Local districts meet with the assessor's office throughout the year to discuss the potential effects of appeals that year, White said.

The district set aside $50 million to cover the projected appeals for the current 2009-10 fiscal year — essentially planning its budget with the assumption that total property values would drop by that amount, White said.

However, the year's reductions were only $30 million, giving the district more property tax income than expected for the current fiscal year.

White has not yet updated next year's budget to account for this change but expects the surprise surplus to prevent the need for any major cuts, he said.

Mountain View Whisman also got an unexpected boost in the current fiscal year. District CFO Craig Goldman estimated that next year's property assessment reductions would rob the district of .76 percent of its income tax revenue. However, its 2009-10 property taxes yielded roughly .9 percent more money than expected — roughly $222,000, Goldman said.

Goldman expects this money to make up for next year's revenue drop, he said.

"Because it hasn't been a very significant amount of money, we haven't looked too deeply into the causes. We're just grateful," he said of the surprise surplus.

Still, next year's property values are noticeably lower than the district expected, Goldman said. Properties in Mountain View lost an overall $501 million in value, the assessor's report said.

"I am a taxpayer concerned about the public schools and other public services funded by property taxes. But as the assessor, we must respond to the serious decline in real property values. The last 36 months is by far the worst economy I've experienced in 45 years, since I left graduate school for Wall Street," Stone said in a press release.

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