Sonoma County property owners are in for a small surprise this year. Their property taxes are about to go down, if only slightly.

Sonoma County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor Janice Atkinson reported to the Board of Supervisors this week that, for the first time since Proposition 13 went into effect, the consumer price index actually fell to a negative number. This year, the CPI is a negative 0.237 percent.

Under Proposition 13, assessed values cannot increase by more than 2 percent based on the consumer price index.

“This is the first time ever that those properties that are not facing a decline in value, based on other factors, will in fact have a slight decline in their property tax values,” Atkinson sold supervisors at the start of budget hearings Monday.

Granted a 0.237 percent is not a huge amount. On a $5,000 property tax bill, it amounts to $11.85. And, again, it only goes into effect for those who have not already received or sought an adjustment on their property values. Still, as my parents used to say, it’s better than a poke in the eye with a hot stick.

For the county, it’s not such good news. Atkinson said because of this decline in values and the fact that about one-third of the residential properties on the county tax roll are in “reduced value status,” the county is predicting a 4 percent decline in overall assessed value in 2010-11. In 2011-12, values are expected to remain flat.

If that’s the case, why are we agreeing to short-term fixes such as furloughs? For more on that subject, click here.

– Paul Gullixson