Property Tax Overview

The property tax process in Santa Cruz County, like most other California Counties, is split between three different offices - the Assessor-Recorder, the Auditor-Controller and the Treasurer-Tax Collector. In Santa Cruz County, the heads of these offices are elected officials. They are responsible to the public for the assessment, collection and distribution of property taxes as well as other important functions.

The Assessor-Recorder determines the underlying value of the properties; the Auditor-Controller determines the amount of taxes to be collected from each property; the Treasurer-Tax Collector bills and collects the tax due from each property. The Auditor-Controller then distributes the revenues to each of the taxing jurisdictions. The Auditor-Controller is also responsible for maintaining the tax rolls.

In California there are three different tax rolls: secured, unsecured, and supplemental. Although the same basic tasks are applied to all three rolls (valuation, extension, collection, distribution and maintenance) there are different time frames.

Property Tax Roles and Timeline


Treasurer Tax Collector
Assess Property Tax Values
Extend Tax Rolls Apportion and Distribute Taxes
Issue Bills and Collect Taxes
Secured Roll

Unsecured Roll

Supplemental Roll
Jan-July May-Sept Oct-June Dec-July
Jan-July May-Sept Oct-June Dec-July

Secured Tax Roll
The term "Secured" simply means taxes that are assessed against real property (e.g., land or structures). The tax is a lien that is "secured" by the land/structure even though no document was officially recorded. This means that if the taxes remain unpaid after a period of 5 years, the property may be sold to cover the taxes owed.

Unsecured Taxes
The term "Unsecured" simply refers to property that can be relocated and is not real estate. The tax is assessed against such things as business equipment, fixtures, boats and airplanes. If the unsecured tax is not paid, a personal lien is filed against the owner, not the property.

Supplemental Assessment Roll
The supplemental assessment roll contains a listing of all property that has undergone a change in ownership or experienced new construction after the lien date on the secured roll. The amount of the supplemental assessment is the difference between the property's new base year value (generally the purchase price) and the existing secured roll value determined as of the date of change in ownership or completion of new construction.

Property Tax Extension
The property tax extension occurs after the roll has been turned over by the Assessor to the Auditor-Controller and after the County Board of Supervisors has adopted the tax rates for the current year. These tax rates are also applied to the valuation assessed by the State on property. The extension of the unsecured roll can be computed as soon as the Assessor has turned the unsecured values to the Auditor-Controller. This can be done since the tax rate applied is the prior year secured rate.

Apportionment refers to the distribution of property tax collections to the individual taxing jurisdictions. The Property Tax Section in the Auditor-Controller’s Office develops the apportionment factors, which are applied to assessed taxes. The current system for allocating property taxes is governed to a large extent by two bills developed by the Legislature nearly 20 years ago - SB 154 and AB 8.

SB 154 was enacted immediately following the passage of Proposition 13. Under SB 154, a local government's share of the property tax was based on the share of the property tax going to that local government before Proposition 13. AB 8, enacted in 1979, provides a methodology in which the increase or decrease in a local government’s share of the property tax is based on the increase/decrease in property values in that jurisdiction and the county.

Tax Roll Changes
These occur when requests are made to the Auditor-Controller to make a change to the tax rolls. The requests come from the Assessor, Tax Collector, the County Appeals Board and the State Board of Equalization (SBE). In addition, cities and special districts request changes to their special charges. Changes in the tax roll result in a decrease or increase in the amount of taxes owed and may result in a refund to the taxpayer or an additional bill due.

Historical Background
Prior to 1912 the State of California derived up to 70 percent of its revenues from property taxes. The state no longer relies on property tax as its primary source of funds. Since 1933 the only property tax levied and retained by the state is the tax on railroad cars owned by private individuals. Today, California's counties, cities, schools and special districts depend on the property tax as a major source of revenue.

Proposition 13
On June 6, 1978, California voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 13, the property tax limitation initiative, by a vote of 65% to 35%. Proposition 13 reduced local property tax revenues state-wide by approximately $6 billion by capping property tax rates at 1 percent and adjusting property tax values for taxation to the 1975-76 level, and increasing each year no more than 2% unless there is a change in ownership or new construction.