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Ouch! It's Time to Pay the Property Tax

Ever wonder where those property tax dollars go? Here's a basic breakdown.

It’s a twice-yearly heart-stopping, sweaty-palm-inducing, eye-widening unavoidable ritual----the paying of my San Mateo County secured tax bill----yes, that post-Prop. 13 bitter pill we property owners must swallow.

So as we prepare for Thanksgiving, Black Friday and all the ensuing merriment, 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 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, our cities to be serviced by police, fire, sewer systems, and storm drains (a good thing this weekend.)

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 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, Mon.-Fri. 8 a.m.-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.

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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