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  Richmond Property Values Rise to Buck County Trend
July 11, 2011

Contra Costa's assessed property values drop slightly

By Paul Burgarino
Contra Costa Times

Posted: 07/10/2011 07:11:05 PM PDT
Updated: 07/11/2011 05:24:47 PM PDT

Assessed values for residential and commercial properties in Contra Costa County continue to fall, according to newly released figures.
The taxable dollar value of Contra Costa properties dropped one-half percent in the past year, according to data released by the county assessor's office last week.
Cities in East Contra Costa saw the biggest declines: Antioch fell 7.1 percent, followed by Brentwood at 4.5 percent and Oakley at 3.9 percent.
In West Contra Costa, Hercules and Pinole also fell 3.9 percent.
Only Richmond, San Ramon and Moraga saw home values rise. Richmond went up 5.7 percent, San Ramon rose 1.1 percent and Moraga rose one-half percent.
A lot of factors contributed to the decrease, county Assessor Gus Kramer said. Newer homes continue to sell for less than their purchase price, while the market still has an abundance of short sale and foreclosure homes, he said.
The significant vacancy rates in strip malls and commercial buildings also put a dent in the values, he added.
"Employment is the engine of our economy. Right now, there are no jobs to allow people to buy homes," he said. "Until some type of employment is established and the banks start lending to average citizens, the values will stay extremely depressed and, at best, lackluster."
The saving grace for the county's property tax roll is older people who are downsizing and selling homes they purchased decades ago for more than they paid, Kramer said.
The numbers surprised officials in nearly every city.
East Contra Costa cities projected that property tax values would increase or stay the same. They now must cut their budgets to account for the unrealized revenue.
Antioch's drop means the city will lose $800,000 more than it anticipated, City Manager Jim Jakel said. Rather than hiring back employees in some key departments, the city likely will have to leave those positions vacant, he said.
"It basically sets our recovery back a year," he said. "The thinking was we were going be in the mode of filling positions, but now we're going to have to pare back. The negative number shows that we had not reached bottom."
Instead of an $80,000 revenue increase, Brentwood lost about $450,000 in property tax revenue, assistant finance director Kerry Breen said. Oakley lost about $140,000.
Those cities will make budget adjustments, if necessary, in January.
The assessment figures were also bad news for Concord officials, who thought the values would be flat. Still, the city's general fund might be spared, City Manager Dan Keen said.
Owners of several big Concord office buildings appealed their assessments and could see those values drop by as much as 50 percent. However, because most of their tax money goes to the redevelopment agency, that would have a smaller effect on the general fund than residential foreclosures, Keen said.
Richmond is celebrating its property assessment, saying the higher-than-expected increase is likely a correction for low assessments in past years.
"It's surprising since we've been down almost 25 percent the past couple of years. We were hit hard, so this is good news," said Antonio Banuelos, the city's revenue manager.
Pinole's decline in value is primarily related to reassessment of commercial property values within its redevelopment project areas, finance director Richard Loomis said.
None of the cities had double-digit losses, which Kramer says is a sign that the market is starting to bottom out.
"It looks like the figures are settling in," he said.
However, he said, the county's property values have historically experienced a "double bottom" when they drop. Once the market hits a certain level, the values show signs of recovery then drop again, he said.
Staff writers Paul Thissen, Tom Lochner and Hannah Dreier contributed to this report.
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.