James McCue packs gravel in place where a wall footing will go on Washington Elementary School’s new cafeteria Monday, one of many school bond projects that are raising property tax bills. - Jim Craven

Property taxes leap

Allen Stewart's property tax statement that's due Nov. 15 hit him hard.

"It's a shame that we're paying such high property taxes," said the 62-year-old retired Jacksonville resident.

Stewart has to pay an extra $431 in taxes this year, mostly because of new voter-approved bonds to pay for improvements to the Medford School District.

County Assessor Dan Ross said he's heard the same from other taxpayers and had a similar reaction when he saw his own statement.

"I was shocked at how much the school bonds have gone up," he said.

Property tax statements were mailed to about 97,300 property owners this month. Taxes and special assessments to be collected for the 40 districts, including schools, cities, rural fire districts and Jackson County, totaled $216,208,428, an increase of nearly 10.7 percent over last year's $195,261,980.

To give the public a better idea where tax dollars are going, Ross said he included an entry on statements showing how much goes for old Medford school bonds and how much is paying for the new bonds.

A tax statement provided by Ross for a Medford property that has an assessed value of $262,220 shows $164.12 pays for the old bonds and $315.77 goes for the new bond levy. Residents in Ashland are also paying for a new school bond and a levy to augment hours at the library.

Stewart said that in reviewing his tax statement, he's calculated that he will pay $1,957.87 total for various levies and other taxes for schools in Jackson County.

He said he would feel a lot better if the schools had been properly cared for over the years, and if the Medford schools had done a better job anticipating how much it would cost to fix up the schools before sending the levy to voters.

"What are we getting for our taxes?" he said. "They can't even budget how to maintain the school let alone rebuild it."

School officials have said they did not do costly engineering studies before the $189 million bond measure went to voters in 2006 because they did not want to tax thin budgets in case the bond was defeated. Designed to fund improvements at all 18 campuses, the bond is running $27 million in the red because of unexpected construction costs.

Ross said many property owners are wondering why they are paying more taxes when the housing market has faltered.

Property tax statements let people know the real market value, but for tax purposes the more important number is the assessed value, which is used to calculate the taxes.

Ross said the assessed value is typically only 48 percent of the real market value. A house with a real market value of, say, $200,000 might only have an assessed value of $96,000.

To lower the assessed value, Ross said the real market value of a home would have to decrease by 52 percent on average — something he doesn't anticipate, despite current market conditions.

Stewart said he couldn't understand why the improvements on his property declined in value from 2006 while his land values increased.

"The real estate market took a nosedive," he said, adding that nothing has changed with his house or other structures in the past year.

Ross said the real market value on the property tax statement reflects conditions in January of this year.

"We are always behind the market," he said.

The Assessor's Office first calculates the value of the land, then considers the total worth of the property by looking at market conditions. By subtracting the land value from the total value, Ross said the remainder becomes the value of the improvements.

If the real estate market continues to slide, Ross said it's possible that his office might adjust the real market value of property downward for next year.

Ross said the most important number is the total value of the land and improvements together.

Stewart said that the continued increases in property taxes have probably reached a point where citizens are going to refuse any levies in the future.

"We're being taxed out of this state," he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or

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