If you own land in Oregon, every year you receive a property tax statement from the county. And, if you’re like most people, it looks like a bunch of different numbers with only one that really matters to you: the total tax for that year. This makes sense – it’s the number that will affect you most in the coming year and it represents a very real and tangible expense that must be budgeted for. But, there’s much more information than that and this information can give you a better understanding of your land, your community, and what you’re actually paying for.

Starting at the top, there will be a property description. This identifies specifically which property is being taxed, and should be a property that you own. Next to that you’ll find map coordinates, your property tax account number, and a property tax code, which relates to the location of the property. These initial pieces of information are pretty uninteresting, but they serve to confirm that the property is indeed yours.

Following those, there is a section called “Values,” which includes assessments of your land for this year and last year. These values are then broken down into three categories: Real Market Value (RMV), Assessed Value (AV), and total property tax. Real Market Value is divided then into three parts: Land, Structures/Improvements, and Total RMV. Land specifically refers to how much the land itself is worth, without considering what buildings and improvements have been placed on the land, as though nothing had ever been built on the land. For people who own agricultural or forest land, this may be the entire value that your property taxes are based on. Structures, or Improvements, and anything built on the land. This could be a house, a factory, a shed, a greenhouse… anything built on the land. The total RMV is land plus improvements, and represents the total value of your property.

After that comes assessed value, which will either be the same as your total RMV, or will be lower. This number represents the actual number that your taxes are based on; a percentage of your assessed value is calculated to arrive at your total property tax, which may simply be referred to on your property tax statement as “Property Taxes.”  When assessed value is lower than total RMV, this indicates what’s called your Maximum Assessed Value (MAV), or the highest number that the tax on your property can be based on. If total RMV is equal to assessed value, that indicates that your MAV is higher than your total RMV because, by law, the county must tax you on the lower of those two numbers.

On the right hand side of the page, there is a list which will include a total breakdown of what you’re being taxed for. This will likely be further broken down into three categories: schools, government (or general government), and bonds. The schools category shows how much of your taxes is going to education in your district and likely includes and amount for your local K-12 school district, as well as any community college in your district. Government is the broadest category and includes what money is going to your city, your public libraries, towards urban renewal, and any other local taxes specific to your property in your county. Last, there are bonds, which are generally money that you city has committed to pay towards a certain goal, like street improvement or school construction, which you as a property holder are expected to pay your share of. Exploring the breakdown of where your property tax money is going is a great way to glimpse into the interworking of your county and municipal governments.

Lastly, at the bottom of your statement there is a table showing how much in property taxes you must pay at what time. In Oregon, we can pay our property taxes throughout the year or in one lump sum. Full payment is accompanied by a discount for paying in full which is usually 3%. If you pay 2/3 at one time, you’ll receive a 2% discount, and if you only pay 1/3 at a time there is no discount applied.

Hopefully, you tax bill now makes more sense. If something seems wrong in your statement, contact you county assessor, or consult with a lawyer or accountant for a professional opinion.