Tens of thousands of Merced County property owners will receive tax breaks this year because of falling real estate values.
That also will mean millions less in revenue for local governments and schools.
According to data released by the county this week, the assessor's office has lowered values -- and consequently tax bills -- for roughly 42,000 properties across the county.
Last year, the county lowered taxes on 21,000 properties, half as many as this year. In 2007, the county sent lower bills to about 6,500 property owners and just 100 in 2006.
Property owners who will receive lower bills this year will be notified by mail in the next two weeks or so, County Assessor Kent Christensen said.
He said most of this year's reductions were made on single-family homes. The average affected property dropped in value by about $70,000, he said.
In all, Merced County's 2009-2010 property assessment roll has fallen $2.6 billion since last fiscal year.
Each year the assessor releases figures compiling the assessed value of all property in the county. This year's total stands at $17.4 billion. That includes the worth of about 82,000 parcels of residential, commercial and industrial real estate.
Last year's total was about $20 billion. The total for 2007 was roughly $20.5 billion.
The county uses the assessed values to calculate property tax bills. In California, property owners pay 1 percent of the assessed value, plus any increases for special bonds.
Based on the assessor's new figures, the county's property tax income is projected to drop by $4.4 million next fiscal year compared with this one. The city of Merced is expecting its property tax income to drop by several hundred thousand dollars.
"The steep decline in the county's assessment roll mimics the steep decline that we are seeing in our local economy," Christensen said. "This year my office reviewed every residential property in the county to ensure residents and taxpayers were given the most accurate adjustments (and bills)."
Under state law, the county can only reassess the value of property purchased after 1978 when the property is modified or changes ownership. That is, unless the property's value has decreased with changing market conditions. That's because of 1978's Proposition 8, which says an owner's assessed value must be reduced when the market value of the property falls below the value being used to calculate taxes.
The tax breaks usually aren't permanent. Once a property gets a Proposition 8 reduction, the assessor's office must review its assessed value each year until the housing market stabilizes.
Property owners with questions about their assessments should go to the assessor's office at 2222 M Street in Merced, or call (209) 385-7631.
Reporter Corinne Reilly can be reached at (209)385-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.