10-14-08Modesto BeeValley home foreclosures dip in SeptemberBut law may only delay the inevitable...J.N. Sbrantihttp://www.modbee.com/local/story/462375.htmlForeclosures dropped dramatically during September throughout the Northern San Joaquin Valley, but don't start celebrating yet. Experts warn that the decline was caused by a change in state law that simply may have delayed -- not stopped -- foreclosures.Whatever the result, statistics from ForeclosureRadar show Senate Bill 1137's impact has been striking:Notices of default, the first stage of the foreclosure process, fell 62 percent in Stanislaus, San Joa-quin and Merced counties in September compared with August.Notices of trustee sale, the last warning in the process, fell nearly 47 percent.Foreclosure sales dropped 19 percent.The law, which took effect Sept. 8, makes lenders meet strict homeowner notification requirements before they can start the foreclosure process."Clearly, SB 1137 has had a huge impact on notices. Only time will tell if the impact is beneficial or only delays the inevitable," said Sean O'Toole, founder of ForeclosureRadar, which tracks California foreclosures.Mortgage defaults have devastated the region's real estate and financial industries, making the Northern San Joaquin Valley the foreclosure capital of the nation.In Stanislaus County alone, more than 10,000 homeowners have defaulted on $3.44 billion worth of mortgages during the past two years, according to ForeclosureRadar statistics.To ease the crisis, Senate Bill 1137 requires homeowners be told they can get free financial counseling to help them avoid foreclosure."We've had a 96 percent increase in inbound call volume during the last five weeks," said Martha Lucey, president of ByDesign Financial Solutions. Her nonprofit housing counseling service is certified by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to serve Stanislaus, San Joaquin and Merced counties.Lucey is optimistic that with more homeowners seeking help, fewer may end up losing their homes."But we haven't seen any dramatic movement in workout success" during mortgage default negotiations with lenders, Lucey said. "If workouts aren't done, then SB 1137 may just be delaying foreclosures."Modifications not requiredThe law was designed to encourage lenders to modify loans rather than foreclose them, but it doesn't require deals be made. It does, how-ever, make lenders contact homeowners before starting the foreclosure process, and it increases the waiting time after contact is made."We expect SB 1137 to have no long-term impact beyond delaying the foreclosure process for homeowners and slowing the overall recovery," O'Toole said. "Given the significant negative equity now occurring in most California foreclosures, modifying loans to affordable levels either requires large principal balance reductions or extending the unsustainable teaser rates that created the foreclosure crisis in the first place."O'Toole said that if lenders start reducing the principal balances owed on many loans, then "they are likely to encourage nondefaulting homeowners to default in the hopes of securing similar reductions."That ultimately would increase defaults, not decrease them as intended, O'Toole predicted.Chad Costa, a Modesto real estate broker who specializes in selling previously foreclosed, bank-owned property, also predicts that the new law won't help much. He said the regulations are "just delaying when those assets will hit the market."He expects the result will be a surge in foreclosures by the end of the year...September statistics from ForeclosureRadar:٠Stanislaus County -- 758 properties with loan values of nearly $251.4 million were foreclosed; 477 properties received notices of default; 566 properties received notices of trustee sale. ٠San Joaquin County -- 1,033 properties with loan values of more than $380 million foreclosed; 598 notices of default; 746 notices of trustee sale. ٠Merced County -- 421 properties with loan values of more than $136 million foreclosed; ٠Tuolumne County -- 26 properties with loan values of more than $8.3 million foreclosed; 26 notices of default; 23 notices of trustee sale. ٠California -- 23,409 properties with loan values of more than $9.75 billion foreclosed; 16,352 notices of default; 19,116 notices of trustee sale. For more information and resources for those in default, go to www.modbee.com/housing.High-speed rail might help valley, but is state ready?...Russell Clemings, The Fresno Beehttp://www.modbee.com/local/v-print/story/462358.htmlThe San Joaquin Valley may have more at stake than the rest of California when voters decide Nov. 4 whether to build a statewide high-speed rail system.Major valley cities from Modesto to Bakersfield were bypassed a generation ago when the state built its main north-south highway, Interstate 5. But the rail system eventually would have stations in most of those cities.Construction would begin with a segment of about 160 miles from Merced to Bakersfield. It would be used for testing the 220 mph trains and getting them certified for their first use in the United States.An Oct. 1 consultant's report for the California High Speed Rail Authority predicted that the trains could help lift the valley from its long economic malaise and produce billions of dollars worth of new business. A July poll suggested that voters are ready to endorse high-speed rail by more than the required majority.But Proposition 1A provides only $9 billion for a system estimated to cost $33 billion for the first phase alone, which will run from San Francisco to Southern California, missing Modesto because state transportation leaders prefer the Pacheco Pass route to the Altamont Pass option.The ballot item includes $950 million for local transit connections to the high-speed tracks. Altamont Commuter Express trains, caught by hundreds of Modesto-area workers to the East Bay, would compete for that chunk of money.The rest required for the statewide system, the authority says, is expected to come from the federal government and private investors such as pension funds. None of that money is nailed down.A small but vocal group of critics, led by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, is skeptical that the additional money ever will be found. The opponents also claim that the project is certain to suffer from cost overruns, is unlikely to carry as many riders as the authority projects, and may not even collect enough fares to cover its operating expenses.Current plans call for the high-speed system, modeled after those operating in Europe, Japan and China, to start carrying passengers a decade from now.Its first line would run from Anaheim and Los Angeles to San Francisco via Palmdale, Bakersfield, Fresno, Merced and San Jose. That puts the south valley at the heart of the system. Unlike I-5, the high-speed tracks would run directly through the region's cities.Shawn Kantor, a University of California at Merced economist who was paid by the authority to assess the system's likely effects on the Central Valley, describes a future in which goods and people can move easily and cheaply."Transportation costs are very high in the Central Valley," he said. "If you start breaking that barrier down, it will help us."But opponents focus on construction costs, which they say are likely to rise, and on the authority's plans for future phases to the rest of the state's major cities, including Modesto, Sacramento and San Diego, which they think are unrealistic."If the governor put me in charge of that agency tomorrow, I would say start over," said Joseph Vranich, who co-wrote a critique of the authority's plan for the Jarvis association, the libertarian Reason Foundation and Citizens Against Government Waste.Also opposing the proposition is the California Chamber of Commerce. But many local chambers, including in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Fresno, support it. Environmental groups are generally in support or neutral.An investment or a waste?High-speed rail advocates base their support on the idea that California needs a third method of intercity transportation.Building enough freeway lanes and airport runways to accommodate the state's travel needs in coming decades could cost $82 billion, the authority calculates. In contrast, it says, a high-speed rail system serving all of the state's major cities would cost about half as much.For that money, the state would get a fleet of sleek bullet-nosed electric trains that would run with steel wheels on steel rails at maximum speeds of 220 mph. Although speeds would be only half that over mountain grades and in congested big cities, the authority still says a nonstop trip from Union Station in Los Angeles to the Transbay Transit Center in San Francisco would take only two hours and 38 minutes.The Reason Foundation report argued that the authority is projecting higher ridership for California's high-speed rail system than for similar systems in countries, like those in Europe, that are better suited for rail travel because of denser populations and more expensive gasoline.Jarvis association president Jon Coupal says that spending billions on high-speed rail could jeopardize the state's ability to borrow money for other needed projects, such as dams."The stark reality is that these projects are going to be competing for scarce bond dollars," he said.The state Legislative Analyst's Office estimates that California would spend $647 million annually for 30 years to pay off the resulting debt. Opponents also question if fares could possibly be as low as the authority predicts -- Modesto to Anaheim for a $49 one-way trip taking two hours and nine minutes, at 2005 prices -- and still cover the system's operating costs, which the LAO estimated at more than $1 billion per year.The authority and other rail supporters have taken the attitude that they don't want to dignify the Reason report with a rebuttal.Many critical details of the system's financing have not been worked out. The $9 billion from Proposition 1A may cover only a quarter of the cost. The authority predicts that the federal government will chip in at least that much more.Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno said he believes there is strong support in Washington for infrastructure projects that could boost the sour national economy. When such projects are selected, he said, "states that have funding in place will be at the front of the line, clearly."For whatever additional money is needed, the authority is recruiting private investors, mainly pension funds sitting on large amounts of cash that won't be needed to pay benefits until their members retire."They're looking for someplace to park their money and have a good prospect of having a profit 10 or 15 years from now when they need it," said Mehdi Morshed, the authority's executive director.With $33 billion needed for the first phase and $9 billion provided by Proposition 1A, if approved, $24 billion more will be needed even with no inflation. At least $10 billion more would be needed for a second phase extending the system through Modesto to Sacramento, to San Diego via Riverside and Escondido, to Oakland from San Jose, and possibly through the Altamont Pass west of Tracy. The authority predicts profit from first-phase operations would help build the later phases.The first part of the system to be built under the authority's current plan would be the Merced-to-Bakersfield test track. Until the rest of the first phase is finished, the test track would be used for putting trains through a three-year series of performance checks required to get federal approval for their use in this country.The Merced-to-Bakersfield segment qualifies for testing use because of its length, flatness and relative lack of urbanization, which would permit trains to be tested at their top speeds. Morshed said there will be no high-speed passenger service on that segment until the entire first phase is ready. Of course, neither the test track nor any other part of the system is likely to be built unless a majority of voters say yes on Nov. 4.If they don't? Morshed said the authority has enough state funding to remain in business through the end of the current fiscal year next June 30.After that, high-speed rail may just be consigned to a list of big ideas that went nowhere fast.Fresno BeeThe Functional Assessment of Wetlands: Towards Evaluation of Ecosystem Services...Research and Marketshttp://www.fresnobee.com/547/v-printerfriendly/story/934004.html(http://www.researchandmarkets.com/research/80ee1b/the_functional_ass) has announced the addition of Woodhead Publishing Ltd's new report "The Functional Assessment of Wetlands: Towards Evaluation of Ecosystem Services" to their offering.Wetlands perform functions that deliver benefits to society, often referred to as ecosystem services. These ecosystem services include water supply, flood regulation, water purification, climate regulation, biodiversity, agriculture (e.g. grazing land), and amenity. A functional approach to wetland assessment enables a holistic view to be taken of the wide range of services wetlands can provide. The functional assessment procedures (FAPs) in this volume translate best available scientific knowledge into reasonable predictions of how component parts of wetlands function in different landscape contexts. They can be used to indicate the potential and priorities for management options in such areas as flood control, pollution reduction and biodiversity conservation. Functional assessment enables the user to predict the functioning of a wetland area without the need for comprehensive and expensive empirical research The FAPs therefore provide a methodology that can be used by both experts and non-experts to assess wetland functioning relatively rapidly. The volume includes an electronic version of the FAPs on CD which automates aspects of the assessment once the initial recording stage is completed. It is anticipated that the FAPs will be used by a range of individuals or organisations concerned with wetland management who wish to gain a better understanding of the processes, functions, services or benefits and potential of the wetlands for which they have responsibility. Key Topics Covered: SECTION 1 INTRODUCTION Introduction to wetlands and functional assessment Introduction. What is a wetland? The importance of the wetland resource. Realising the benefits of wetland functioning. Threats and impacts on the wetland resource. Challenges for the future of wetlands and their management. What is a functional approach? Introduction to the functional analysis procedures (fapS). Electronic version of the functional analysis procedures. The application of functional analysis. Further reading and references. SECTION 2 WETLAND DATABASE ESTABLISHMENT Introduction Objectives. Method. Output from database establishment. Data recording and references. Further reading and references. Fieldwork preparation Introduction. Assessment Area (AA) delineation and map preparation. Contributory Area (CA) delineation and map preparation. Collection of desk information on Assessment Area (AA) and Contributory Area (CA). Confirmation of rights of access. Selection of required field equipment. Further reading and references. Hydrogeomorphic (hgmu) delineation Introduction. Check and enhance prepared assessment area (aa) maps. Subdivide AA into its main components. Subdivide AA landscape components into hgmus: preparation and procedure. Further reading and references. HGMU Characterisation Introduction. Recording of geomorphic indicators. Recording of hydrological indicators. Recording of ecological indicators. Habitat and vegetation identification. Part 1: land use and site management, field indicators. Part 2: collection of hgmu information. Assignment of hydrological codes. Estimation of hgmu area. Nutrient input characterisation. Trace element input characterisation. Further reading and references. Recording sheets Recording sheet 1. Recording sheet 2a. Recording sheet 2b. Recording sheet 2c. Recording sheet 2d. Recording sheet 2e. Recording sheet 3. Recording sheet 4. SECTION 3 FUNCTIONAL ASSESSMENT Introduction Method. The syntax for combinations of answers in look-up tables. An example of how to use the assessment charts. Further reading and references. Hydrological functions Introduction. Floodwater detention (function). Groundwater recharge (function). Groundwater discharge (function). Sediment retention (function). Rapid quantification of hydrological function. Further reading and references. Biogeochemical functioning Introduction. Nutrient retention (water quality function). Nutrient export (water quality function). In situ carbon retention (function). Trace Element Storage (function). Trace Element Export (function). Organic Carbon Concentration Control (function). Ecological functioning Introduction. Ecosystem maintenance (function). Food web support (function). SECTION 4 SCORING AND APPENDICES Functional analysis summary Functional analysis summary table. When the functional assessments are done. Scoring the functions: Hydrological functions, Biogeochemical functions, Ecological functions. Appendix 1 Glossary and alternative terminology Appendix 2 Information sources (United Kingdom) Appendix 3 Reference list for codes Appendix 4 Publications & theses produced during FAP development Appendix 5 Conversion of process outcomes to functional scores - electronic version For more information visit http://www.researchandmarkets.com/research/80ee1b/the_functional_ass Stockton RecordRiver restoration subject of talks...The Recordhttp://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20081014/A_NEWS/81013019/-1/A_NEWSSTOCKTON - Habitat restoration on the Calaveras River will be the subject of a talk at 7 p.m. Friday at the Oak Grove Nature Center in Oak Grove Regional Park.Greg Anderson, a biology professor at University of the Pacific, will talk about plans to restore the portion of the river that runs through campus.The program is free; parking costs $3 per vehicle. It's part of a series of Nature Nights events at the park.Call (209) 953-8814 or visit www.sjgov.org/oakgrove for more information.Report of toxic minerals stalls plans for Calaveras recreation area...Dana M. Nicholshttp://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20081014/A_NEWS/810140327/-1/A_NEWSSANDY GULCH - Arsenic contamination in soil and water has put an end to dreams of a regional park with ball fields, hiking trails and picnic areas on a former lumber mill site in Sandy Gulch.Calaveras County officials in September were weeks away from signing a deal to purchase the 22-acre park site from the Calaveras County Water District when a 1992 study came to light that warned of toxic minerals present on the grounds.Pat McGreevy, who represents the West Point area on the Calaveras County Parks and Recreation Commission, found the old report. "These documents were in the CCWD library. I read them. I said, 'Oh jeez, look at this.' "McGreevy said it is not clear whether the arsenic is a natural component of the soil or whether it came from chemicals used to treat lumber at the former mill. He said the initial indications are that the arsenic is much more widely dispersed than would be likely if it was from industrial contamination related to the mill.McGreevy said removing or covering the arsenic would make the park project prohibitively expensive.The loss of the potential regional park site sent county officials scrambling to find appropriate uses for almost $250,000 in Proposition 40 state park bond funds that had been slated for use in Sandy Gulch. Counties have to use such funding by 2010 or lose it. And with the time it takes to complete environmental studies and construction, that means projects must be lined up by the end of this year or they likely won't happen.Today, the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors will consider an alternative list of projects for West Point and nearby towns that includes a much more modest ball field on several acres just across Highway 26 from the CCWD site.McGreevy said initial soil tests on the smaller site have come back clean and the land's owner appears to be willing to sell. The site would be easy to develop, in part because it was used as a community ball field during the 1980s and 1990s."If we don't nail this deal, it's unlikely the upcountry will get a park any time soon," McGreevy said.The project list to be considered today includes $92,500 for the purchase of the alternative ball field site, $28,000 for a skateboarding ramp to be built in downtown West Point, $70,000 for a water filtration system to solve problems with the well serving the community park, youth alliance and community club facilities in Mountain Ranch, $25,000 to install air conditioning in the Mokelumne Hill Town Hall, and $30,000 to install bleachers, a snack bar and an irrigation system at Hobbs Field in Mokelumne Hill.Steve Wilensky represents the West Point and Mokelumne Hill areas on the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors. He said the arsenic pollution was not the only factor pushing up the cost of building a park on the mill site. He said it turned out that it would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars as well to build a road to the park that met county standards. In essence, officials would have had to choose whether to spend the money on buying the land, cleaning it or providing road access."We'd have only enough money to do one of the three, let alone build a park. It became financially unviable," Wilensky said.Monterey HeraldWater woes could dry up development in Monterey's Ryan RanchDistrict to review Cal Am limits for Ryan Ranch...DANIEL LOPEZ http://www.montereyherald.com/ci_10715811A moratorium has been placed on water connection permits for new development in Monterey's Ryan Ranch because it appears there is not enough water to meet existing or future demand. The freeze by the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District will remain in effect until at least next month. That's the earliest a district board hearing can be held to determine if California American Water can produce enough water from wells for Ryan Ranch to meet demand for the business park along Monterey-Salinas Highway. The issue before the board will be to determine how or if changes should be made to Cal Am's current 175-acre-foot limit on water delivery to Ryan Ranch. "If you don't have water on your property there's basically nothing you can do with it," said Henry Ruhnke, an architect who consults for Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital. The hospital owns several properties in Ryan Ranch, including an undeveloped parcel of about 5 acres. Ruhnke said the hospital does not have building plans for that land but a 44,000-square-foot addition of medical office space is planned for a 15-acre lot at 5 Lower Ragsdale Drive where a 63,000-square-foot building exists. "With the situation with the water, it's my understanding that there would be no development," Ruhnke said. "It creates properties with potential into properties with no potential." Chip Rerig, Monterey's chief of planning and engineering, said that if changes are made to the limit on water, "it could completely stifle development of a handful of lots." He said there are about six lots that remain undeveloped in the business park and others have plans for building in phases. Another project that could be threatened is the out-patient campus of Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. Dr. Steven Packer, Community Hospital's Chief Executive Officer, said 21 acres were purchased about 5 years ago in Ryan Ranch with the plan to build a 220,000 square foot facility. The plan was approved by the city as part of the hospital's master plan and so far 88,000 square feet of that has been built, he said."Our purchase was made with the understanding and belief water would be available," Packer said. The possibility the water district could reduce limits on how much water can be supplied is problematic given the prior approvals, he said. And the hospital has not yet applied for all its projected water needs. "It could impede our long-term plans to address the changing health care needs of our community," Packer said. "Hopefully, (the district) will evaluate a project on its merit and act accordingly." Rerig said redevelopment plans in Monterey could be impacted by a decision to reduce water delivery. Several of the doctors' offices on Cass Street were expected to move to the development when space was built. He said the city's concern is that limitations on water not preclude development rights Ryan Ranch land owners were given at the time of purchase. Darby Fuerst, general manager of water district, said that accounting for future growth, Cal Am is allowed to supply up to 175 acre-feet of water annually with no more than 190 connections in the business park. Last year, Cal Am delivered about 71 acre-feet of water to 152 connections but every year for the last six years the company has had to bring in water from the Carmel River to meet the existing demand, he said. "The aquifer is not as productive as we thought it was," Fuerst said. That has raised the question of how demand will be met if building continues. "If it's a bad situation, we don't want it to get worse," Fuerst said. In addition to the moratorium on new water permits, the district advised Cal Am to stop issuing letters to prospective customers in Ryan Ranch agreeing to service them, unless given written authorization by the district. The notice was a disappointing surprise, said Cal-Am spokeswoman Catherine Bowie. "We don't want to isolate Ryan Ranch," Bowie said. "We view our water system as a whole and don't believe this action is necessary." Bowie said that is especially true given that in the last year Cal Am's pumping combined from the Carmel River and Seaside Ground Water Basin was more than 800 acre-feet below the allowed limit. Cal Am is currently allowed to take up to 11,285 acre-feet of water from the Carmel River, though the state has determined they only have legal right to 3,376 acre-feet. Cal Am is allowed 3,849 acre-feet annually from the Seaside Ground Water Basin. "We can feed Ryan Ranch from the main system," Bowie said. But Fuerst said the district's action is necessary to ensure that Cal Am can meet the demand. Even Cal Am's supply from the Carmel River is not guaranteed.The state Water Resources Control Board is trying to determine if it adopts an order that would direct the company to reduce its draw from the river in staggered stages with a 50 percent reduction by 2015. Bowie said Cal Am's goal is to get a new water supply so it can deliver to its customers. The company is pursuing the development of a $200 million water desalination facility, though it is not expected to come online until 2015, to met its legal limit of 3,376 acre-feet annually. Fuerst said that when the Ryan Ranch system was approved in 1989, Cal Am agreed to run it with water supplied from the Laguna Seca subarea of the Seaside Basin and that water would only be brought in from elsewhere in times of emergency. At times, during the last six years, some of the water for Ryan Ranch has had to come from the Carmel River because of problems with Cal Am's wells that draw from the Laguna Seca subarea and the need for maintenance work at its treatment plant on Upper Ragsdale Drive, Fuerst said. "This is happening too frequently," he said of the need to bring in emergency water. Under a recently adopted ordinance, the district can revise previously approved production and connection limits on water systems, Fuerst said. However, Monterey Mayor Chuck Della Sala — in a letter to water district chairwoman Judi Lehman — expressed disappointment with the district's action because when the ordinance was being considered, it was not presented to the political advisory committee for review or comment. This is also not the first time Cal Am's operation of the Ryan Ranch system has been scrutinized. Two years ago, the county Health Department issued a compliance order to Cal Am questioning the long-term reliability of the system and pushed the company to come up with a plan for meeting demand, Fuerst said. A number of suggested solutions in that plan have been tried but none have been successful, according to Fuerst. The hearing to address the Ryan Ranch water issue is scheduled for Nov. 17, the water district's regular board meeting, but will likely be rescheduled to a different day, Fuerst said. He said the district will prepare a detailed review of the Ryan Ranch water system that will account for any building projects that are pending, so that recommendations for action can be made to the board. CNN MoneyHome prices may plummet, but taxes won'tOwners who've seen a steep drop in their home's value shouldn't expect to get a break on thier property taxes...Les Christiehttp://money.cnn.com/2008/10/10/real_estate/lower_home_prices_same_taxes/index.htm?postversion=2008101413NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Housing prices have plummeted, but property tax bills probably won't budge.This January, local tax authorities will begin to send out property assessments for 2009, telling homeowners what their property is valued at, and how much their tax bill is.But many assessments won't reflect any of the steep home price declines that have been making headlines for the last year or so. And even if property assessments do drop, property tax bills won't necessarily be any lower."I think you're going to see a lot more taxpayer protest this year," said Bruce Hahn, president of the American Homeowners foundation, a non-partisan consumer advocacy group.A huge runup slowsProperty taxes climbed relentlessly earlier this decade as home prices rose, according to Pete Sepp, spokesman for the National Taxpayers Union. This year Americans will pay more than $400 billion in property taxes, up about 25% from levels in 2004 and double what they paid ten years ago.At best, says Sepp, those steep increases may start to level off.Nevertheless, homeowners are already pressing assessors for lower tax assessments. "For my first 25 years [as an assessor], nobody ever asked me to lower the assessment based on a home selling for less down the street. There are many such inquiries this year," said Ken Wilkinson, the tax assessor for Lee County Fla., which includes Cape Coral and Ft. Myers.He estimates that 80% of county residents have seen the value of their homes decline. The median price of existing homes fell more than 25% in the 12 months ending June 30, according to the Housing Opportunity Index compiled by Wells Fargo (WFC, Fortune 500) for the National Association of Home Builders. Home prices in Moreno Valley, Calif. a city of 187,000, have fallen by more than a third over the past two years, according to the same index. And that has many more homeowners clamoring for reassessments, according to Barry Foster, the city's economic development director.But even if local prices are way down, taxpayers may not win a lower assessment, because there can be a big lag time between when the home sales used to calculate them take place and when the assessment is actually issued. To calculate 2009 assessments, for example, assessors will use home sale prices from 2008 or even earlier, according to Sepp. Usually this works to taxpayers's advantage, since price increases take a while before they are fully reflected in assessments. That's why it's typical for most homes to be under-valued, according to Bruce Hahn of the American Homeowners foundation. But that's also why many homeowners aren't likely to see their assessments shrink immediately. Lower values, same billThere's another reason why homeowners are unlikely to see any decrease in property tax bills. In some states, such as California, Washington State, Massachusetts and Idaho, taxes are based on the last resale price of the house. Even a home worth $500,000 in California may be taxed based on the sale price when it was bought 10 years earlier for $200,000. "Because the assessment is based on acquisition value, it's difficult to get that re-evaluated," said Sepp. That's why the market value of most homes in these states exceeds the assessed tax values. The owners with best case for a reassessment are the ones who bought at the top of the market and have seen their values drop by a third or more, like many of Moreno Valley's residents.Even if citizens do receive a lower assessment - and this year Wilkinson expects to lower assessments for most taxpayers in Lee county, Fla. by 20% or more - their property tax bill may not shrink at all.Tax collectors often raise tax rates to offset lower assessments to meet their budgets, which will be very strained this year. Assessments go down but rates go up so that the tax collections stay roughly the same. "State and local governments depend very heavily on real estate taxes and they are reeling from a loss of revenues from sales taxes and other sources," said Bruce Hahn.Once homeowners get their bills, they'll have several weeks to contest their assessments, according to Hahn. He suggested they go online to real estate evaluation sites such as Trulia or Zillow to determine how far property values have fallen in their communities. They can also cite comparable home sales for similar properties to make their cases."Some tax assessors have been very reasonable," said Hahn, "but others are under great pressure to keep revenues up." Banks surge on $250B investment planShares of most of the nine major banks that agreed to participate in plan soar Tuesday; JPMorgan Chase is the one exception...David Ellishttp://money.cnn.com/2008/10/14/news/companies/banks_capital_plan/index.htm?postversion=2008101412NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Bank stocks surged Tuesday as top regulatory officials unveiled a sweeping plan to invest up to $250 billion in shares of ailing financial institutions.Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair announced details of the proposal Tuesday morning. The hope is that injecting $250 billion into the nation's financial system will get banks to lend to one another and ultimately thaw frozen credit markets.While the money is expected to be divvied up among banking institutions of all shape and sizes, half of the $250 billion would go to nine of the nation's largest banking institutions.Included in that group were commercial banking giants Citigroup (C, Fortune 500), Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500), JPMorgan Chase (JPM, Fortune 500) and Wells Fargo (WFC, Fortune 500), each of which would get an investment worth $25 billion from the Treasury Department, according to two individuals familiar with the matter. Shares of the four banks, except JPMorgan Chase, surged in midday trading on the news, building on Monday's massive market rally in which the Dow Jones industrial average gained 936 points, or 11.1%. JPMorgan's stock fell about 2%.In exchange for funds, banks will offer preferred shares, i.e. stocks that pay special dividends, and agree to impose a limit on executive pay.Top federal officials including Paulson and Bernanke reportedly encouraged executives from the nation's leading banks to participate in the plan during a meeting in Washington Monday afternoon.That included some of the biggest names on Wall Street including Goldman Sachs (GS, Fortune 500), Morgan Stanley (MS, Fortune 500) as well as brokerage giant Merrill Lynch (MER, Fortune 500), which agreed in mid-September to sell itself to Bank of America, as a result of the recent market turmoil. All three firms are participating in the plan, sources said, with Morgan and Goldman getting a $10 billion investment each.Shares of Goldman and Morgan extended their gains from Monday on the news, rising 12% and 20% respectively. Merrill shares climbed 17%.Rounding out the group were State Street (STT, Fortune 500) and Bank of New York Mellon (BK, Fortune 500), both of which primarily focus on processing bank transactions instead of the retail banking business. Shares of the two firms gained 16% and 6% by midday. Bank of New York Mellon said in a statement that it would receive $3 billion from the Treasury Department in exchange for preferred stock."It is time to get the markets working again for borrowers and investors," Robert Kelly, chairman and chief executive officer of The Bank of New York Mellon said in a statement.The government's plan to inject capital would be drawn from the recently approved $700 billion government rescue package and supplemented with other measures announced Tuesday, including the removal of insurance limits on some bank accounts and a pledge to guarantee new debt issued by banks.Industry experts believed that the steps announced Tuesday, combined with previously outlined plans by the Treasury to acquire troubled assets from banks, should go a long way towards putting the embattled U.S. banking sector back on track."These programs will mitigate further erosion of the economy," Daniel Alpert, managing director of Westwood Capital, a New York-based investment bank, wrote in a research note published Tuesday.Citigroup banking analysts Keith Horowitz and Greg Ketron called the capital plan "a game changer," and upgraded 12 banks to a "buy" rating as a result of the announcement, including regional banks KeyCorp (KEY, Fortune 500) and BB&T (BBT, Fortune 500).Fellow Citigroup analyst Prashant Bhatia, who tracks Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, upped his rating of the two former stand-alone investment banks as well, saying that the investment from the government would make it easier to access the credit markets so they can raise more capital.