According to Assessor Webster Guillory, there are more than 1.65 million taxable properties in Orange County. The total assessed value of those properties is $418.8 billion (down $5.2 billion from last year) as of January 1, 2009.
The Local Assessment Roll includes a “Secured Roll” and an “Unsecured Roll.”
The Secured Roll consists of all locally assessed real estate, excluding exempt properties such as churches, hospitals and schools. It includes 897,547 parcels and has a total value of $397.8 billion, a decrease of $5.67 billion from last year.
The Unsecured Roll consists of assessments on business personal property, boats and aircraft. It applies to 131,900 businesses, 35,000 boats and 900 aircraft. Its value of $20.9 billion includes an increase of $467 million since last year.
At Proposition 13’s uniform property tax rate of 1%, we will pay $4.19 billion in property taxes to over 200 taxing agencies in the county. Unlike revenue from sales and income taxes, some of which goes to the state for distribution, all property tax money stays in Orange County. Here’s where it goes.
- Schools $0.62 (1)
- Special districts .11 (2)
- Cities .10 (3)
- Community redevelopment agencies .10 (4)
- County general fund .06 (5)
- County libraries .01
- Total $1.00
(1) 62% of Orange County property taxes goes to our schools. The statewide average is 53%. (In San Francisco, it’s 30%.) Does this mean that our schools are better funded than others? No. In compliance with the Serrano-Priest court decision (1971), which ruled that all schools must be funded equally, the state distributes sales and income taxes (paid in part by Orange County residents) to other counties to make up their school funding shortfalls. We pay for our own schools, and “donate” money to other counties to help them pay for theirs!
We are the state’s most generous donor county. OCTax has sponsored legislative bills (by former Assemblywomen Brewer and Daucher and more recently by Senator Correa) to correct this inequity. We’ve had minimal success: “recipient” counties enjoy our involuntary largesse, and because they outnumber Orange and other donor counties, they routinely defeat our reforms. In 2009, during the legislative battle over proposed state tax increases, Senator Correa bargained for a “raise” for Orange County of between $30 million and $50 million per year. That helps, but as the Senator says, “We still have a long way to go to parity.”
(2) The return of property tax revenue to special districts is 11¢ per dollar, but the cost to each property taxpayer varies according to the districts that serve him or her. For example, the Orange County Fire Authority serves unincorporated parts of the county and 19 contract cities; the other 15 cities have their own fire departments. There are 101 special districts in the county. In addition to the Fire Authority, examples include: the Orange County Sanitation District; Orange County Vector Control District; Orange County Transportation Authority; the Irvine Ranch, Moulton Niguel, El Toro, Yorba Linda, Santa Margarita, and South Coast water districts; the Midway City and Sunset Beach sanitation districts.
(3) While the average return of property tax revenue to the cities is 10¢ per dollar, the actual figure varies by city. Some cities provide many services themselves (fire, police, water, sewer, etc.) while other cities contract with county agencies and special districts for services. The return is higher than average to Laguna Beach (which provides most of its own services) and lower than average to Laguna Woods (which contracts for almost everything).
(4) The redevelopment agencies’ 10¢ share of our property taxes is intended to upgrade blighted areas, using “tax increment” financing. The agencies skim away the yearly incremental increases in property tax revenue generated within their boundaries. The county has two redevelopment agencies (Santa Ana Heights and the Neighborhood Development and Preservation Project), while 24 cities have such agencies. By law, redevelopment agencies must devote 20% of the money to low- and moderate-income housing. Redevelopment projects adopted after 1994 must return 25% of the remaining 80% to the other agencies of government that otherwise would receive the tax increments.
(5) The County of Orange general fund receives 6% of our property tax (plus 1% for libraries). The general fund receives a smaller share of its taxpayers’ property tax than any other county in California. At the other extreme, the combined City and County of San Francisco gets 61%. Here’s why. AB 8 (1979) was state government's effort to "bail out" local governments following Proposition 13. AB 8 doles out money to counties in proportion to their 1979 allocations of property taxes between schools and general governmental services. Being frugally managed and somewhat agricultural in 1979, Orange County spent a higher percentage of its property taxes on schools, and less on general services, than other counties. To our subsequent disadvantage, AB 8 makes this allocation permanent, even though Orange County now is heavily urban, with more need for governmental services.
OCTax thanks Assessor Guillory and Frank Kim (Manager, County Budget Office) for their help in assembling this information.