Berkeley Property Tax Base Edges Over $90 Billion Mark

Friday July 23, 2004

The assessed value of privately owned property in Berkeley jumped 7.5 percent during the past fiscal year, from $9,048,160,060 to $9,724, 464,361, reports Alameda County Chief Deputy Assessor Russ Hall. 

After deducting homeowner’s and other exemptions, the increase drops to 7.1 percent, with net values of $8,535,718,193 assessed for tax purposes in fiscal 2003-2004 and $9,142,917,035 for the new fiscal year. 

Countywide, gross assessed values hit $159.2 billion, or 6.78 percent over 2003-2004. After exemptions, the total assessment for Alameda County’s roughly 450,000 taxable properties reached $147.4 billion, 

The county’s biggest assessed values were chalked up in Dublin, with a jump in gross valuation of 12.9 percent. 

Assessed values are radically different from market values, thanks to Howard Jarvis and his Proposition 13, which caps assessment increases on an owner’s property to two percent a year. Thus, a house that might sell for a million dollars might be assessed for a tenth that price if owned continuously over the decades by one individual, partnership or corporation.  

Schools are the chief beneficiaries of the property tax, consuming 44 percent of the total. The remainder goes to cities, redevelopment areas and special districts. 

Official notifications started going out to taxpayers on the July 16, with the last going out July 31. 

“Most of the increase in countywide assessments come from the sale of existing property, when the property is reassessed at current market value, rather than from new construction,” Hall said. 

With local government increasingly dependent on the property tax in the wake of federal and state funding cuts, municipalities and school districts keep a nervous eye on real estate sales and construction. 

The U.S. Department of Commerce announced Tuesday that new housing starts in June had dropped to their lowest levels since February, 1994, when the Federal Reserve started raising interest rates after a recession. 

Not only is new residential construction slowing, but Reuters reported Tuesday that sales of existing homes are slowing nationwide. 

Statewide, sales of existing homes dropped 1.3 percent from April to May, but were still 10.5 percent higher than a year earlier, according to the California Association of Realtors (CAR). Mortgage rates in California had jumped by 1.7 percent from April to May to 6.27 percent, compared to 5.83 percent in April and 5.48 percent in May, 2003. 

The median price of a Bay Area home in May reached $648,240, the second highest region in the state after Santa Barbara County, where sales prices jumped 71.2 percent in the last year, compared to 17.6 percent for the Bay Area and 26.5 percent statewide. 

The median statewide price for a single family home hit $465,150, making them less affordable that anytime in the last 15 years. 

According to CAR figures, only 16 percent of California families can afford to buy a median-priced single family home in Alameda County compared to 19 percent statewide and 55 percent nationally.