Property tax roll nears $50B in county, new props threaten Prop 13

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Tulare County reports a 2% rise in property taxable value as measures to alter Proposition 13 head to the November ballot

TULARE COUNTY – The Tulare County Tax Assessor’s Office released the annual tax roll report showing that properties in the county total nearly $50 billion in taxable value; however, those numbers have potential to increase depending on the outcome of two ballot measures in this November election.

The report shows an increase of 8.5% over last year’s values, driven largely by new construction and recent sales of properties according to a press release from Tulare County Assessor/Clerk-Recorder Tara K. Freitas, CPA, and the Tulare County Board of Supervisors. The tax roll is based on the assessed values of all residential and commercial properties in the county.

“Our aim is always to ensure property owners receive fair, accurate and timely valuations and that all qualifying tax-saving exemptions and exclusions are applied,” Freitas said in the press release. “While home prices have risen significantly since 2008, Prop 13 ensures that long-term property owners won’t experience equivalent increases in their assessments.”

Freitas said the average residential tax increase in the county was just 2%, largely as a result of Proposition 13. Property taxes are one of the key revenue sources to fund public services, street repairs and a wide variety of other projects.

Prop 13 is a 1978 voter-enacted law that limits the amount of property taxes on homes to the value of the home in 1976, and allows just a 1% increase and cannot exceed 2% on those homes unless the home is sold or new construction is completed. The law received significant support in the state in 1978 when it was enacted and is often viewed as a contributing factor to the election of Ronald Reagan to the presidency in 1980 amidst a nationwide tax revolt.

However, efforts to alter Prop 13 protections are ongoing, and in November, voters will be faced with two measures that could alter Prop 13 by weakening protections and potentially stripping away current codified laws, which could result in higher property taxes if enacted, as reported by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, the original sponsor of Prop 13 in 1978.

The two measures are ACA-1 (Aguiar-Curry-Yolo) and ACA-13 (Ward-San Diego). ACA-1 is a Constitutional amendment that will, if passed by voters, change the rules for incurring bonded debts from a two-thirds vote to 55% voter approval, which will make it easier for cities, counties and the state to increase taxes. ACA-13 shifts tax increases from voter approval to the Legislature and is viewed as a direct attack on Prop 13 by many taxpayer advocacy groups such as the California Business Properties Association.

“California needs to get its act together and figure it out,” state assemblyman Devon Mathis (R-33) said in an emailed statement to The Sun-Gazette. “Having a massive budget deficit and heading towards a recession is not an excuse to go mess with Prop 13 or any other taxes for that fact, unless they would like to reduce them. Prop 13 is the one safeguard for homeowners. It’s one of the few things people can actually count on in this state. I am adamantly opposed to changing Prop 13.”

On June 21, the California Supreme Court removed a ballot measure known as the California Taxpayer Protection Act, which would require legislators to include language in initiatives on the ballot to openly state a tax increase. The measure received more than 1.4 million signatures to qualify but was removed by the courts. It would have applied to every tax and fee from library book fees to bond measures.

Efforts to eliminate the measure were led by Gov. Gavin Newsom and Democratic legislators, who hold a super-majority in the state legislature as reported by Courthouse News. The immediate review process by the California Supreme Court is considered rare.

The measure would have required that any tax increase would need voter approval with a two-thirds approval. The court decision relied on the principle that requiring voter approval for tax increases could negatively impact public services such as fire and police funding. The courts ruled the measure substantiated a significant change to the function of the government and therefore is not appropriate for the ballot.

One additional protection for homeowners is Proposition 19, which was enacted by voters in 2021. Prop 19 allows parents to transfer property to their children without the property facing a reassessment. This can keep a property under Prop 13 rules generationally.

There are other instances outside of tax increases in which a property can get a new valuation however, according to Steve Wise, communications director for the Tulare County Tax Assessor’s Office. Wise explained that upgrades to the home can cause a new valuation. He said things like installing a pool would lead to an assessment while the addition of a small patio is unlikely to lead to a change in assessment.

“From the property tax side, we are trying to arrive at a conclusion about whether this improvement adds to the value of the home,” Wise said. “When people add a bedroom on, it certainly adds value, but there are also times when people will make improvements to their home that are considered maintenance and repair.”

Wise explained these are typically projects such as replacing a roof, painting the building or replacing windows. He added that in the case of major repairs where a building is being stripped to the studs, that building is then considered a “new” house by the assessor’s office.

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