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March 6, 2008


By John Horgan



Decline on the horizon?



IT IS certainly no secret that California's housing market is experiencing more than its share of problems.


Combined with the ailing, rocky credit situation, it's not an encouraging scenario.


Foreclosures are on the rise. Loans are difficult to obtain in many cases. Some homeowners are simply walking away from properties that have declined in value since they were purchased.


The overall economy has suffered as a result. The big picture isn't pretty.


Not surprisingly, San Mateo County government officials are bracing for what could be a drop in tax revenues associated with real estate. But, so far, any potential impacts in an area where million-dollar homes are routine have been either minimal or nonexistent.


According to County Treasurer/Tax Collector Lee Buffington, taxpayers have been paying their property tax bills pretty much on time and on schedule when compared with prior years.


"There has been no significant rise in delinquencies, atleast not yet," he said this week. "Maybe that will change in April (when the next installment payments are due)."


Over in the County Assessor's Office, Terry Flynn said much the same thing. "We haven't seen a huge rollback (in assessed property values)," he said. But, he noted, a modest trend does seem to be developing.


Of roughly 1,000 residential properties that have changed hands during the latest reporting period, the net fiscal effect was a loss of $90 million in assessed value, he explained.


"But that's on a (tax) roll with a total assessed value of $125 billion," he noted. So the fallout has not been dramatic. Could it get worse? Perhaps.


Flynn said it's likely that some homeowners who have seen their houses or condos lose value will request 2008-09 tax reductions from his office. But, so far, it hasn't been anything close to a tidal wave.


He said the prime territory for reductions appears to be the North County, in places like Daly City and South San Francisco.


County authorities, as you can imagine, have their fingers crossed. Local property taxes are the key ingredient in the budgets of most public agencies along the Peninsula, including nearly a dozen school districts.


So the financial stakes are quite high. As Flynn put it, "A lot of people are watching this very closely." And they are watching with some trepidation.


HALL OF FAME — Just a reminder: The 20th annual County Sports Hall of Fame induction banquet is set for June 19 at the San Mateo Elks Lodge. This year's group of honorees will be announced in April. So far, 192 individuals have been included in the Hall of Fame since its inception in 1989. The Hall of Fame is the creation of The Times. Plaques are on display at the County History Museum in Redwood City.


Do you have a local tidbit or Peninsula vignette you'd like to share? Don't lollygag. By all means, send it along to John Horgan by telephone at 650-348-4334, by fax at 650-348-4446 or by traditional snail mail to 477 Ninth Ave., Suite 110, San Mateo 94402. You can check out his blog, Read It and Rant, at