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Sonoma County property assessments rise, and so do taxes

For the first time in five years Sonoma County has recorded an increase in assessed property values, a trend driven by the rebounding housing market and one set to add revenue for local governments still emerging from a period of recession-wracked budgets.

The assessed value of residential, commercial and farm property in the county jumped 3.32 percent over last year. That far exceeds previous county projections, which had envisioned a more conservative growth rate of 0.75 percent.

The $2.1 billion increase, to a net tax roll of $66.7 billion, offers further evidence of and hope for a local economic recovery, government officials said.

“It is a very positive benchmark,” said Bill Rousseau, Sonoma County's clerk-recorder-assessor. On Tuesday he presented the annual report on property values to the Board of Supervisors.

For thousands of homeowners it reflects the end of a half decade underwater, with mortgages higher than home values.

The flip side is that many who had seen their taxes drop in recent years will now see them rise, based on either partial or full returns to their properties' previous assessed base value.

The county has 182,000 properties assessed for tax purposes. Among the 55,000 that previously were reduced in value, more than 38,000 will see higher tax bills in December and April.

About 17,000 properties will see no change or will have their assessed value dropped.

The largest group of properties, representing about 70 percent of the total roll, are set for incremental tax increases under Proposition 13, the voter-passed initiative that caps annual assessed value increases at 2 percent.

The higher 2013-2014 roll — based on 2012 activity — is fueled by a combination of restored home values, sales, new home construction and a 2 percent rise in the consumer price index, county officials said.

The uptick is the first since a tumbling housing market and global economic downturn in 2008 sent property values on a historic downhill slide, erasing $10 billion in assessed value countywide and drying up hundreds of millions of dollars used by local governments to support staffing and services.

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