Over 80 residents attended a town hall sponsored by the Sonoita Elgin Community Group on Feb. 20 for a presentation by Felipe Fuentes, Jr., the Santa Cruz County Assessor. David Green, who chairs the group and introduced Fuentes stated that, “clearly the property tax issue was the highest priority from public input at recent town hall meetings.” 

Becky and Gary Cooper who are “concerned about rising taxes and the disconnect between what people in the area want and what they get from the county,” hosted the Property Tax Seminar. They gathered 43 questions from area residents in advance. The county provided written responses, handed out and reviewed in the meeting. Dozens of additional questions were asked and answered at the end of the presentation. 

Fuentes explained that the assessor’s office mission is to identify and appraise at current market value all property subject to taxes and to process exemptions. His office does not set tax rates nor collect taxes. Rates are set in July by the Board of Supervisors based on county budget estimates and input from Fire, School and Special Tax Districts. As an example, last year a resident on Elgin Road with 22 acres paid 27.5% of total taxes to the County, 19.5% to the Fire District, 5.5% to the Flood District, and 47.5% to the School Districts. These figures vary depending on specific taxing districts and property values and can be calculated from property tax notices. 

On March 1, Notice of Value cards will be mailed out from the Assessor’s office, according to Fuentes. He explained that FCV means Full Cash Value which is determined by comparing your property to similar properties which have been sold in the same market area. Similarities and differences are noted based on conditions of the sale (i.e. short-sale), date of sale, location of property and physical characteristics that may adjust the FCV up or down. 

“I know that assessments are all about how we sell our properties. If you sell your property at a high price, then my property taxes go up,” Sonoita resident Sue Archibald stated. One audience member asked if his taxes could be reduced because his neighbor’s property is trashed. Fuentes responded that if the condition of his neighbor’s property has a negative impact on his property value then it could be adjusted. A resident of Rio Rico questioned why his taxes went down significantly, but taxes in the Sonoita Elgin area were not. Fuentes responded that the cost of buying property in the Rio Rico market area is declining as there are many homes for sale and they are selling at a lower amount than the Sonoita Elgin market area. 

Fuentes also explained that LPV means Limited Property Value which is determined by law to create a hedge against inflationary increases in the market value of the property by limiting the amount of increase that can occur from one year to the next. Typically, the LPV will increase by 5% over last year’s LPV and can never exceed the Full Cash Value. The LPV is the base for the primary tax rate.

At the end of the session, Fuentes commented, “Participation was great. Most complaints are because of the tax. If you feel your property is overvalued, it doesn’t cost you anything to appeal. We will check the assessments and let you know exactly how we arrived at them.” New to the community, Phillip Burdine and his wife, commented, “Most of my questions were answered and I think it went very well. The community has good rapport with the assessor and some people have a little different idea of what the assessor does or doesn’t do.”

The Sonoita Elgin Community Group will host the second seminar “How to Appeal your Property Tax” on March 6 at the Fairgrounds at 6:00 p.m. The group is also reaching out to the School and Fire Districts for additional town halls in the near future.