Property owners in Santa Cruz County will see the same tax rates on their bills this year, after the board of supervisors passed a final fiscal year 2020-2021 budget this week.
However, some may still pay more in taxes than a year ago, depending on their properties’ assessed values.
The final budget adopted Tuesday morning includes an overall higher property assessment value that is expected to bring in more than $14.4 million in primary taxes, compared to $13.7 million the previous year.
“I do want to emphasize that we’re not raising the tax rate. We’re leaving that unchanged as last year,” Finance Director Mauricio Chavez said during the “truth in taxation” hearing on Tuesday. “This will only affect homes that had an increase in value. If your property didn’t have an increase in value, it does not affect or increase your taxes.”
He explained that the overall valuation increase means that taxes on an average home that had been assessed at $100,000 would increase by $11.72 this year, or about $0.98 per month.
That’s because on average, the assessed value of such a home has increased, though it will still be taxed by the same primary rate (3.98 per $100 of assessed value) and secondary rate (0.896).
The board adopted the final budget, which applies to the period of July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021, with total expenditures set at $90.5 million. The general fund, which covers administration and operational costs, included an increase of about $40,500 in expenditures, for a total of $29 million.
Chavez clarified that all county departments had already cut a minimum of 5 percent from their operational costs, but the increase in expenditures was due to higher mandated expenses that the county has no control over, including retirement costs, liability insurance, and the increased minimum wage.
And even with the increase in revenue from property taxes, the county was still looking at a nearly $200,000 deficit to pay for the $612,000 mandated expenses.
The special revenue fund saw an increase of about $7.3 million to a total of $51.7 million, which Chavez said was due to the funds sent down from the state and federal governments for coronavirus relief.
“The big increase that you see this year is because of the CARES Act funding, everything that potentially we’re going to be able to reach out and procure,” Chavez said.
However, he added, the county still had other plans in case the expected revenue falls short of officials’ anticipation for the new fiscal year.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have a magic ball that we can identify (what) we’re going to be dealing with or how long we’re going to be dealing with that, so we’re still holding on that situation to be unknown,” he said, referring to the impacts that the COVID-19 outbreak will have on the county’s finances in the future.
A few county residents called in on the meeting, expressing their own concerns and doubts about the new budget and the county’s measures for managing their expenses.
Eastern county resident Donna Federici asked county officials how they had decided on the 5-percent budget cut for each department, rather than a higher number.
County Manager Jennifer St. John said the finance department began projecting revenues during February and March, and decided on the budget cut based on what they found.
“We also asked them to have another 5- and another 10-percent cut that we may have to implement mid-year,” she said.
Tubac resident Rich Bowman raised a question about the $4.2 million estimated expenditures for personnel in the jail district, saying that it seemed to be a “fairly significant amount given if it just pertains to the personnel.”
But St. John explained that the amount covers about 71 juvenile detention, jail and medical staff, as well as the retirement costs and health benefits for those individuals.
“As always, we have been a very conservative board and most of our projections have usually been very conservative,” Supervisor Manuel Ruiz said. “I’m sure that we’re tracking our costs and, whenever we can, we will submit to either the state or the federal government to reimburse us for those costs.”
He added that if any residents believe that their property assessment values are too high, they have the right to file a protest at the County Assessor’s Office.