Montclarions Miffed About Real Estate Tax Uses

In November, Today in Montclair wanted to understand and gauge local attitudes towards taxes levied on homeowners.  After letting our real estate tax survey bake in the oven, we’re ready to share the goods with everyone.

The takeaways?  While you’re somewhat resigned to Oakland’s current taxes, you don’t want them increased much without better accountability.  You’re focused on how any tax increases would get spent by the city.  And you’re wrestling with Proposition 13’s legacy, too.

Tax Rate Attitudes

Based on our survey, some 32 percent of Montclarions felt current overall taxes were acceptable/okay and another 14 percent were neutral.  The ad-valorem taxes were viewed similarly, with 42 percent acceptable/okay and no one who was neutral.  Respondents were more positive towards parcel taxes, with 58 percent ticking acceptable/okay and 16 percent who were neutral.

Reactions to tax increases moved slightly south, as expected.  Some 29 percent felt overall increases would be acceptable/okay/neutral, while 71 percent said thumbs-down.  The biggest negatives were due to ad-valorem increases, with a full 83 percent ticking not acceptable or okay.  By contrast, 53 percent said parcel taxes were not acceptable or okay.

We also asked locals how they generally voted for measures which increased homeowner taxes.  These responses tracked consistently with parcel tax viewpoints.  Some 45 percent reported “no, most times” and five percent said “no, always.”  The remaining survey takers said they would accept increases most times/sometimes.

As expected, last summer’s decision to increase city ad-valorem taxes was rather quietly revealed.  These taxes were increased from 1.33 to 1.41 percent – and 36 percent knew, 59 didn’t know, and the rest weren’t sure.

Tax Revenue Uses

We asked a hypothetical question about how tax increases might be used, and Montclarions overwhelmingly wanted more resources directed to hills services:  65 percent ticked acceptable/okay.  This isn’t surprising, as you do hear neighbors complain about safety, infrastructure or park support.

Yet the desire to direct resources wasn’t fully focused on hills services.  Survey takers also believed that resources should be funneled to specific city departments or services, with over 50 percent deeming that acceptable/okay.

The majority of Montclarions didn’t want increases to be unassigned, as 60 percent were against increasing taxes for general city coffers.  However there’s ongoing debate about resource allocations and accountability:

– I do not trust the Oakland city council to make sound financial decisions but I also dislike special assessments for basic city services.  Piece-mealing obscures the reality and the enormity of the city’s spending.

– In general, taxes for a specific purpose do not work in Oakland – this just frees up general fund monies for non-worthwhile endeavors.

– My taxes keep going up and the city’s administration and services keep deteriorating. There is something wrong with this picture.

– OAK has to get its problems under control – the fiscal house is a fiscal sieve – you cannot have examples weekly of how badly the CC [City Council] misspends the precious resource – money and then have the CC going back time after time to require more payments.

– I don’t mind paying extra taxes but I feel the city is grossly mismanaged and any revenue raised goes into a black hole / politicians’ pet projects without any derived benefit to me, the tax payer.

Unfair Taxes Anyway

Many Montclarions were quick to point out Proposition 13’s tax inequities, and the data bears this out.  Based on all respondents reporting, their annual taxes were $9,940 (average) and $9,710 (median) – and ranged from $4,000 to $18,000.

Of course, the more-recent home buyers were taxed far higher than their neighbors.  One hard-hit respondent still took this in stride, declaring “I bought my house 5 years ago and pay more taxes than anyone on my street.  Something that raises my taxes $65 doesn’t bother me, and helps even out the tax load.”

Another survey taker believed we have to create a better tax solution:  “Generally speaking, we pay far too little property taxes compared to other parts of the world.  We need a way to contribute more to our living infrastructure without being too subjected to the wild fluctuation of the home values.”

Based on Today in Montclair’s real estate survey, we can safely say that locals are willing to pay up – far more than we expected.  However what’s done with the tax revenues is a much bigger question, and the City of Oakland will have to work on some real confidence and credibility building there.

More info:  The survey respondents split 64% male and 36% female.  Ages broke down as: under 40 years (23%);  40-49 (41%); and 50-plus (36%).  Everyone owned homes:  under 1 year (5%); 1-2 (9%);  3-4 (18%); 5-9 (18%); 10-14 (27%); 15-19 (9%); and 20-plus (14%).

6 thoughts on “Montclarions Miffed About Real Estate Tax Uses

  1. The fact that so many people are okay with our current taxes, or would even consider an increase, indicates to me that they haven’t spent nearly enough time studying how Oakland spends their tax money. I can only hope that if they truly knew how the City throws their money away and spends it on unauthorized purposes, to such a degree that the City got sued, and lost, and now owes $15 million, their responses would switch to “unacceptable.” Oaklanders need to wake up!!! Our taxes are unacceptable. For the background, check out my blog at
    By the way, how many responses did you get?

  2. We received just about 100 responses, so quantified results should be directionally correct.

    The respondents were biased, based on people who read this blog or were re-directed from blogoaksphere. That’s why we were pleased by the nice distribution by age and home ownership years.

    Nearly everyone answered all the survey questions, though about half supplied tax bill amounts and about three-fourths responded to “drill-downs” about parcel and ad valorem taxes.

    Finally, the comments were all over the map. Some survey takers were more accepting of taxes than others, but they all sought changes in accountability.

  3. It is a misperception that our property taxes are low, although they are certainly inequitable. I previously lived in Madison, WI and Boulder, CO, so I just went back and checked average property taxes. In Oakland the average property taxes paid is $4100, in Madison it is $3900 and in Boulder it is $2200. So while the percentage is low, the actual property taxes paid are not low at all, due to our inflated home values.

  4. In response to similar levels of property taxes in other cites: Having lived in Madison, garbage was included in property tax (water, too – ?). Something to consider when the WM and EBMUD bills come rolling in … those costs are often included in property tax charges.

  5. Taxes in Oakland are by no way low – they are high. Look at all the add ons on the tax bill.

    Could not agree with Marleen more. The fact is that the vast majority of the people I know haven’t a clue about how our taxes are wasted.

  6. If anyone in Oakland thinks their tax bill is about right and they are okay with the current lavel of taxation, then they clearly have too much money on hand. May I suggest a donation to my favorite charity – me!

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