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When governments pay property taxes

November 9, 2003

We usually think of property taxes being paid by private owners to local government. There are times, however, when local governments have to pay property taxes to other local governments, sometimes within the same county, sometimes to a distant county.

The taxation of lands owned by local governments outside their own boundaries began with an amendment to the California Constitution in 1914. The amendment was prompted by the purchase of large tracts of land in the area around Mono Lake by Los Angeles water agencies in order to obtain the rights to water for shipment to the growing population of the Los Angeles area.

Mono and Inyo counties objected to the removal of these lands from their already small tax base. The 1914 amendment required that local governments which purchase taxable lands outside of their own boundaries (city limits, district boundary or county line) pay property taxes to the county in which the purchased lands were located. In 1968, an additional section was added to the constitution to govern how the amount of taxes on these lands was calculated because of allegations by the tax-paying agencies of unfair assessments. The formula contained in that 1968 amendment, Article XIII, Section 11 of the California Constitution, is still in place. That section provides that such lands are taxed at the lower of their current market value or a value based on factoring the 1967 assessed value of the property. A recent California Supreme Court decision added a third comparison to determine which is the lowest, the Proposition 13 factored base year of the property.

In Napa County there are currently 64 parcels of land owned by agencies outside of their boundaries. The total taxable value of these lands in Napa County is $6,492,511. The taxes paid on these lands are distributed to all taxing agencies within the county on the same basis as taxes paid by private property owners.

One example of lands owned by agencies outside their boundaries is large tracts of wetlands purchased by the City of Oakland several years ago as mitigation for the expansion of the Oakland Airport. While those lands have subsequently been transferred to the city of American Canyon, they are still outside of the city's boundaries and remain taxable. The cities of Napa, Vallejo, St. Helena and Calistoga also own lands outside their boundaries, usually for watershed purposes, as does the Napa Sanitation District.

Agencies with taxable lands can use the same methods as private landowners to reduce their assessment including signing California Land Conservation (Williamson) Act contracts and/or entering into conservation or scenic easements. The city of American Canyon recently received 600 acres of land for a natural preserve. The city is planning to enter into a Williamson Act contract this year with the county.

Should you have any questions please contact Napa County Assessor John Tuteur at 707.253.4459 or by e-mail

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