Santa Clara Co. reassessing property taxes

September 9, 2009 4:02:49 PM PDT
Thousands of homeowners in Santa Clara County are getting bad news in an already tough economy. Their property taxes could be higher than they expected, because of mistakes.

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The assessor said that over 3,000 property owners' home values were accidentally over-reduced. State law requires that those are corrected to reflect the accurate market value. The assessor said the mistakes happened because it was working so hard to meet its deadlines and was overwhelmed by reassessing values of some 200,000 homes in the county.

"We focused on quantity rather than quality," said Santa Clara County assessor Larry Stone.

Stone is not shy about admitting mistakes that were made when re-assessing and lowering the values of some 98,000 properties -- nearly one-quarter of the county's homes. The assessor's office recently discovered that as many as 3,300 of those properties assessed earlier this year, were given lower values than they should have been. This means those homeowners were also expecting a lower property tax bill.

"It's really a notification problem, virtually all of those property owners, all 3,000 of them, will pay less property tax this year than they paid last year, so the implication that property taxes are going to up over last year for these people is incorrect," said Stone.

So how could this mistake happen in the first place? The assessor says it was a combination of errors.

"We have an old legacy computer system that we're in the process of replacing, and when you do that many re-appraisals, we didn't have the personnel because of budget cuts and staff cuts to do the kind of review of the computer outcomes, if you will, that we would normally do," said Stone.

None of those affected have received their in-accurate tax bill in the mail yet, that will arrive by the end of the month. But they will eventually get an additional bill, reflecting the corrected value, which could be hundreds to thousands more dollars. The assessor says it's been a rough year re-assessing plunging property values during the housing market crash, but that the new home values will be back on track.

"I want to assure people that the values that we put on the roll, even with the corrections, are going to be accurate values reflecting the accurate market that exists today," said Stone.

The assessor's office is still working out the actual number and location of properties affected, but says the areas most likely affected will include Milpitas, parts of San Jose and the south county, like Morgan Hill and Gilroy. In the coming weeks those affected will receive a series of letters in the mail, explaining the problem then got additional tax bill, but don't have to pay difference until April 10th.

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