By Ken Hambrick
If you own property in Contra Costa County, your property tax bill is probably in the mail or soon will be. When it arrives, resist the temptation to jump to the total and actually read through what can be a very long list of line items.
The property tax bill acts as a collection tool for a number of governmental agencies. So, in addition to the actual “property tax,” everything from mosquito abatement to school bonds is on the bill, depending upon where you live in the county.
The bill is divided into two sections, “Ad Valorem Taxes & Assessments” and “Special Taxes & Assessments.” “Ad Valorem” means a tax or assessment levied on property based on its “assessed” (not market) value. School bonds and the basic property tax fall into this category.
The items you will see on the Ad Valorem side of your property tax bill include:
- 1 percent countywide tax -this is the actual property tax and increases are limited by the terms of Prop 13. This tax is actually collected for a variety of entities and is split approximately as follows: 50 percent to schools, 21 percent to special districts, 12 percent to the county and 8 percent to cities.
- East Bay Regional Park – This repays bonds authorized by voters to buy land. The Park District gets part of the 1 percent property tax for operations.
- Community College Bonds – Used to remodel and update the facilities of the Contra Costa Community College District.
- School Bonds – Depending on where you live, you will see various school bond taxes listed on your tax bill. Some areas have more than five bonds in effect.
- BART Bonds – In addition to already existing bonds, you will soon see the new BART Measure RR bonds, passed in 2016, appear on your tax bill.
On the Special Taxes and Assessments side of the bill:
- CCC Sanitary District Sewer Charge – Every residence has a sewer charge by a sanitary district, ranging from $100 to over $300.
- CC Federal Stormwater Fee – Mandated by the Federal government to eliminate contaminants from stormwater runoff.
- Mosquito & Vector Control Special District – covers programs to control pests like rats and mosquitoes.
- Emergency Med B – used to expand ambulance service, provide defibrillators, train paramedics, etc.
- East Bay trails – East Bay Regional Park District parcel tax for trail maintenance.
The number and cost of the individual items on the property tax bill varies depending upon the city in which the property is located as well as the assessed value of the property.
These other items can add significant amounts to the taxes you pay. A review of a cross-section of tax bills shows an overall increase of as much 16 percent in some communities in the past year.
In some cases, the Special Taxes & Assessments have increased over 50 percent.
As a property owner and voter, you can control some of the increases in your tax bill. Make sure you vote when new taxes or bonds appear on the ballot and be aware that bonds will not appear on the tax bill until the bonds are actually issued. And remember, bonds are a tax -- they're not free!
Even though they don't see a property tax bill, renters are impacted by tax increases since those costs normally flow through to them in the form of higher rent.
After your income taxes, property taxes are likely your next highest bill. Know what you are paying for – read your tax bill.