How to read your property tax bill

By Jon Coupal | Californians are keenly aware that we bear a heavy tax burden.

Progressives claim that the tradeoff is low property taxes, but that’s just not the case. California ranks 17th out of 50 states in per capita property tax collections. What can be said about Proposition 13 is that it has made property taxes reasonable, not low.

A weekly column by Jon Coupal

For most property owners, tax bills were due last week and many were surprised that the increase was more than they anticipated. But that isn’t because Prop. 13 isn’t working, it’s because there are far more items listed on property tax bills than ever before. It’s important that taxpayers know how to read their property tax bills.

When reviewing your tax bill, the best place to start is to pull out last year’s bill and do a side-by-side comparison. For most California counties, the property tax bill will show three categories of charges. They are the General Tax Levy, Voted Indebtedness and Direct Charges and Special Assessments.

The General Tax Levy is what most people think of when talking about property taxes. It is based on the assessed value of land, improvements and fixtures. This charge usually makes up the largest portion of the tax bill and it is the amount which is limited by Proposition 13.

The annual increase in the General Levy of Assessment should be no more than 2 percent, unless there have been improvements to the property, like adding a room to the house. However, if a property had previously received a “reduction in value” reassessment under Proposition 8, the taxable value may go up more than 2 percent to reflect the recovery in the market value. But remember, in no case will the taxable value be more than the initial Prop. 13 base year plus 2 percent annually from the date of purchase.

The second category of charges is Voted Indebtedness.

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