Sonoma County property tax roll tops $100 billion, but full impact of pandemic still unclear
The sum value of taxable property in Sonoma County rose again this year to an all-time high of just over $100 billion, county officials announced Tuesday, though the full impact of the coronavirus pandemic and 2020s destructive wildfire season were not factored into that figure.
The record total marks a 3% increase over the last fiscal year. Since 2012, the county’s assessment roll of residential and commercial properties has steadily increased after emerging from the Great Recession.
“We were due to reach this milestone,” said Sonoma County Chief Deputy Assessor Rhiannon Yeager. “It’s good to see for the economy, especially after what we went through (during the pandemic).”
Property taxes, which are determined by property value assessments, are one of the most crucial sources of revenue for county government. For the 2021 fiscal year, property taxes are expected to account for about 80% of the county’s roughly $350 million in discretionary spending, which supports public safety and administrative services, as well as road repairs and other functions.
Peter Bruland, deputy county administrator and budget manager, described the 3% increase in the assessment roll as “modest growth.”
“This is really in line with what we were expecting when we were creating our budget,” Bruland said.
Additionally, half of all property taxes go toward public schools in the county. How much individual school districts will benefit from the rise in assessed values will vary depending on local property tax rates, Bruland said.
Officials credited the growth to the North Bay’s skyrocketing home real estate market, along with inflation.
But the county is still in the process of determining what impact the pandemic had on local commercial properties whose values may have plummeted after more than a year of shutdowns and restrictions.
The Sonoma County Assessor’s Office has requested information about commercial properties it suspects lost value. It is also encouraging owners of properties whose market values have dropped due to COVID-19 to file for a change of assessment with the County Clerk-Recorder’s Office by the end of November. If a property’s market value has fallen below it’s base year value under Proposition 13, California’s landmark 1978 ballot initiative, the assessor must use the market value.
The county did not include such adjustments in its current assessment roll.
Bruland said he doesn’t expect potential declines in commercial property values to have a significant impact on county revenues.
“We’ve seen nationwide that commercial properties are not doing as well,” Bruland said. “ … But I do think from a Sonoma County perspective, we are much less reliant on commercial properties (for property taxes) than urban areas.”
The county is also still working to update assessments for the roughly 500 homes destroyed in last year’s Glass, Walbridge and Meyers fires.
Erika Rendino, a real estate broker in Cotati, said growing property taxes could squeeze local residents hoping to buy a home, as a flood of remote-work émigrés from the Bay Area and beyond continue to bid up sale prices.
Under limits imposed by Prop. 13, property taxes are limited to a 2% annual increase, except in cases where a catch-up increase is made after prior annual decreases tied to dips in market value.
It’s been nearly a decade, however, since Sonoma County has seen a significant drop in residential property values.
“If you think about who can afford to move to Sonoma County, it’s people who are making more than $150,000 a year, and how many people in Sonoma County can make that?” Rendino said.
You can reach Staff Writer Ethan Varian at firstname.lastname@example.org or 707-521-5412. On Twitter @ethanvarian
Housing and homelessness, The Press Democrat
I've lived in California for most of my life, and it's hard for me to remember when the state hasn't been in a housing crisis. Here in Sonoma County, sharply rising housing costs and increasing homelessness are reshaping what was long considered the Bay Area’s “affordable” region. As The Press Democrat’s housing and homelessness reporter, I aim to cover how officials, advocates, developers and residents are reacting to and experiencing the ongoing crisis.