Ouch! Time to Pay the Property Tax

Ever wonder where those property tax dollars go?

A guest column by Joan Dentler, the editor of our sister site, Belmont Patch.

It’s a twice-yearly, heart-stopping, sweaty palm-inducing, eye-widening and unavoidable ritual - the paying of my San Mateo County secured tax bill.

Yes, I'm talking about that post-Prop. 13 bitter pill we San Mateo County property owners must swallow.

So, as we pay the bills from Thanksgiving, Black Friday and all the ensuing merriment therin, we must also hold a few bucks back to send to Sandie Arnott, county tax collector. (Note: Even on the West Coast, it’s tough being named Sandie.)

The bills are mailed out in September, but for many of us, they sit unopened, being shuffled from pile to pile, until the payment deadlines loom - then, like tearing off a Band-Aid, we take the hit and rip it open. And gasp.

Tax Bill Due Dates

For those who opt for the split payments, the first installment of the 2012-13 secured tax payment was technically due Nov. 1, the second on Feb. 1, 2013. However, Sandie gives us a grace period before she hits us with a 10 percent penalty fee (plus $40). So we can stretch out that first payment till Dec. 10, 2012 if necessary; the second is late after April 10, 2013.

And, new this year, if you’d like to save a stamp, you can drop your tax bill off in person at the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Substation - in Half Moon Bay. What?!

Of course, it’s our property taxes that allow our kids to be educated, and our cities to be serviced by police, fire, sewer systems and storm drains (a good thing with the recent rain and subsequent water main breaks and sink-holes!).

Property tax dollars also allow San Mateo County to provide health, welfare, human services and criminal justice programs to its nearly 720,000 inhabitants.

And don’t forget those special districts like flood control and Sequoia Hospital.

Your Tax Bill Breakdown

So, let’s examine this year’s tax bill line by line and see where we come up with a number that is higher than the tuition bill for my freshman year of college.

First off, the bill gives some helpful assessment information: the land your property sits upon, and actual structure, called “improvements” (in my case, a house).

From that total, an exemption is subtracted, giving you the total value of your property. It is from this number that the rest of what you owe the County is calculated, starting with the General Tax Rate, or 1 percent of the full cash value of your property (before exemption).

The handy pamphlet that accompanies this tax bill reminds us that, under Proposition 13, real property is reappraised only when a change in ownership occurs, or when new construction takes place. And except for these two instances, property assessments cannot be increased by more than 2 percent annually. (Oh, to have moved in before 1975!)

The pamphlet also includes a pie chart that breaks down the 1 percent ad valorem tax to show how tax dollars are distributed:

  • Schools: 44% (the largest portion)
  • County: 21.8%
  • Cities: 16.5%
  • Redevelopment Agencies: 8.3%*
  • Special Districts: 9%

(*According to the County Controller’s office, the payment to Redevelopment Agencies are for related costs associated with the dissolution of those state agencies. There are still some outstanding debts that must be paid. )

Beneath the General Tax Rate amount is a listing of all of the taxing agencies, the percentage rate, and the amount you owe for 2012-13.

Specific to my city of residence, Belmont, these taxing agencies include: Belmont ESD bond; Belmont-Redwood Shores School District parcel tax; Belmont CFD; Belmont NPDES Storm fee; Belmont Sewer fixed, Belmont Sewer volumetric; Belmont Sewer facility.

Specific to San Mateo County, taxing agencies include: Mosquito Abatement District and the San Mateo County Community College District.

Other taxing agencies on my bill include Sequoia Union High School District maintenance; San Mateo Junior College bond; a general tax TOT; and a California NPDES storm fee.

Live Chat Tax Support

A new live chat support website has been set up for further explanation of your tax bill or any other taxpayer information - www.sanmateocountytaxcollector.org - or, you may call the tax collector at 650-363-4142. Both are available during regular office hours, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

So, although it stings a bit, like a good citizen, I will pay my fair share before Dec. 10, and be thankful that my sewer system works, the police come when I call, my kids have been educated and my small investment in San Mateo County real estate is appreciating.

PATCH WANTS TO KNOW - Have you taken a close look at your 2012-13 San Mateo County property tax bill? Are you pre- or post-Prop. 13? Tell us in the comments below if you think your property taxes are being put to good use.


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Buck Shaw November 26, 2012 at 04:58 PM
I find it interesting that when you speak of "Fare Share" do you imply that someone who doesn't pay RE taxes is, shall we say a "Slacker"? I had thought by previous articles in the Patch that phrase was reserved for the top 2% of tax payers.
M. Sterling November 29, 2012 at 07:24 PM
I find nothing "Fair" about people paying taxes on what is now market valued property worth significantly more that it's Tax value, because of Prop 13. Quite honestly, that single event has caused all "new" or "relocated" owners since Prop 13, to pick up the Share of taxes that those who have not been paying they're FAIR share. And, the loopholes, that allow a home to be almost completely rebuilt (leave one wall standing) and still avoid the true market value of taxes to be assessed is appalling. I certainly have no access to the underlying statistical and financial information, but I would challenge someone with that information, to indicated what the change in taxes would be for ALL if the Prop 13 was repealed and property taxes were in fact, then FAIR.
Buck Shaw November 29, 2012 at 08:29 PM
Do you honestly think that your taxes would be lowered in a situation that you seek. Once apon a time M. Sterling. My friend bought a house ten years after me and complained as you do. Now 25 years later he has nothing to say accept. I now see what you mean about Prop. 13. Most of your "loopholes" you speak of are for the Building Pertmit, Calif. Title 24, Engineering, Geotechnical, Enviromental Report, Fire Place building fee's and not the Assessors benifit. The assessor will however assess the new things built at there present value even including your own sweat equity and labor costs at present market value. Time is the only equalizer in prop. 13. Unless of course you vote for or againt the annual tax increases the County comes up with such as Measure A . Wonder what it will be next year. Perhaps your mortagage interest or maybe a county park issue or maybe another new jail or street repair, how about some new bond to rebuild the bay levies because of sea level rising?


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