News - April 9, 2008

How school districts, towns share pain of Ellison refund

by Marjorie Mader

The cost of Larry Ellison's $3 million property tax refund will be spread among the 139 taxing agencies — school districts, cities and special districts — throughout San Mateo County.

The refund is due to a decision last December by the county's Assessment Appeals Board to lower the assessment on Mr. Ellison's 23-acre Woodside estate by 60 percent, from $173 million to about $70 million, and make it retroactive to May 2004.

As a result of the reassessment, Mr. Ellison's annual property taxes on the estate — billed at about $1.86 million in 2007 — were reduced to an estimated $751,000, according to Terrence Flinn, deputy county assessor.

Under state law, the cost of large refunds is spread among all the taxing entities in the county proportionate to the amount of taxes they collect. The funds will be deducted from each agency's property tax revenue apportionment for the 2007-08 fiscal year, said deputy county controller Kanchan Charan.

The 24 school districts in the county will pay about 50 percent of the total refund, according to the county controller's office.

Local impact

Of the local school districts, the largest share of the refund — $188,631 — will be paid by the Sequoia Union High School District, which includes Woodside and Menlo-Atherton high schools.

The Menlo Park City School District's share is $37,513. The Las Lomitas district's is $21,804. The Portola Valley district will pay $16,279 while Woodside Elementary District's share is $9,245.

These districts receive most of their revenue from local property taxes.

Local towns also will help fund the Ellison refund to the tune of $19,794 for Menlo Park; $10,030 for Atherton; $3,633 for Woodside; and $1,633 for Portola Valley.

In addition to the one-time refund, the 60 percent assessment reduction will result in continuing lower property tax revenues for the Portola Valley School District, the Sequoia high school district, and the town of Woodside. (The Woodside property is located in the Portola Valley School District, although children from that area have the option of going to either Portola Valley schools or Woodside School.)

Preliminary estimates show that the loss of revenue to the Portola Valley district will be $250,000 to $300,000 for 2008, said Tim Hanretty, the district's assistant superintendent. This is about the cost of three teachers.

Ed LaVigne, the Sequoia district's assistant superintendent for administrative services, estimates his district's loss, independent of the refund, at about $62,000 this year.

Woodside Town Manager Susan George said the town received about $130,000 in tax revenue from the Ellison property in 2007. Because of the reassessment, the figure is likely to drop to under $53,000.


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