The city’s $70 million decrease in value was also mirrored around San Joaquin County, according to statistics released by the office of Assessor Kenneth Blakemore.
Mountain House’s assessed value declined 0.79 percent ($9 million) while Stockton fell by 1.56 percent. The overall county’s value dropped by 0.32 percent.
Only the unincorporated parts of the county and the cities of Ripon and Manteca bucked the trend, posting respective gains of 1.61, 0.06 and 0.01 percent.
Tracy Administrative Services Director Zane Johnston said the announcement was welcomed by the city, which expected a decline of about 2 percent.
“Any decrease, you can’t consider that good news,” he said. “But actually, in a previous conversation, (Blakemore) gave me a number that was a little worse than that.”
The revised numbers mean Tracy could collect $200,000 more revenue than anticipated for the 2012-13 general fund budget of $49.9 million. When approved in June, that budget was expected to need $2.2 million in reserve money to make up a deficit.
But Johnston isn’t taking the funds for granted, saying adjustments in the roll could cause the final property tax numbers to be better or worse. Even with the “improvement,” Johnston said it would likely be the fifth straight year of falling property tax revenue in Tracy.
“It would be very premature to say, oh, we’re going to be $200,000 for the better in all property tax categories,” Johnston said. “It seems to be a moving target on so many different fronts.”
He said the county auditor wouldn’t have an accurate property tax estimate for Tracy until late fall.
“Until I get the actual check,” Johnston said, “we’ll just consider everything an estimate.”
To the northwest in Mountain House, Business Manager Gay Giles agreed that the absence of bad news counted as good news.
Compared with the double-digit dips in assessed value in Mountain House in 2009 and 2010, the most recent 0.79 percent decline shows the housing market could be stabilizing.
“We’re hoping so. It would appear that way,” Giles said. “I believe most of the houses that are going to be foreclosed upon or are going to change hands have done so.
Tracy, MH cope with changes
Since 2007, Tracy’s assessed property value has declined 28 percent, according to Press calculations, and Mountain House’s has plummeted 34 percent.
During the same time period, county seat Stockton has seen a 24 percent decrease. But that city has filed for bankruptcy, while Tracy and Mountain House have stayed afloat.
Though Tracy has run a general fund deficit the past six fiscal years, including the fiscal year that began July 1, Johnston explained that Tracy’s fiscal outlook was more restrained than Stockton’s. Stockton had a higher debt load percentage on its general fund as well as an unfunded health care plan for its retired workers.
“We’re in relatively good fiscal condition,” Johnston said.
Since April 2011, Tracy has also benefitted from Measure E, a half-cent sales tax increase approved by 58.3 percent of city voters in fall 2010.
Giles said Mountain House finds itself in relatively good shape because of the community services district’s decisive action and conservative approach.
“We laid off over half our staff as soon as … we realized things were going downhill,” Giles said. “Between laying people off and good stewardship of the money prior to that, we were OK. We weren’t in great shape, but we were OK.”
The community services district board of directors also voted 4-1 to raise a series of special taxes for the 2012-13 fiscal year, a move Giles has said will help maintain balanced general fund budgets going forward.
“Our employees are very cost-conscious,” she added.
Against the grain
The increase in assessed value in Manteca, Ripon and the unincorporated county are the first such increases since 2008, when Ripon, Lodi and Manteca saw single-digit bumps.
But Blakemore said the rises in value did not indicate an upswing in residential markets.
“Those are aberrations, but not because the market has turned around, by any means,” he said.
Blakemore explained that construction on previously unimproved property was responsible for much of the gains in Manteca, and Ripon’s improvement — the biggest in San Joaquin County — can be largely attributed to a pet food manufacturer opening up shop.
The unincorporated county’s uptick, he said, was largely because of increases in value allowed by Proposition 13, a statewide initiative passed by 62.6 percent of California voters in 1978 that governs tax law. According to Prop. 13, if the California Consumer Price Index increases, property with a market value higher than its assessed value can be hit with a tax increase of up to 2 percent.
Blakemore warned that those signs should not be mistaken for a pending surge in real estate value or an economic recovery.
“It’s going to be a long haul. It’s not going to turn around on a dime,” he said. “I think we all hope we’ve hit bottom, but we just don’t know.”