What is the Mills Act Program?
Managed by the County of Ventura Planning Division, the County’s Mills Act (“Mills Act”) Property Tax Abatement Program provides a potential property tax reduction to the owners of qualified historic properties who actively participate in the restoration and maintenance of their historic property. Enabled by state legislation in 1972 and established in 1994, the intent of the County’s Mills Act Program is to encourage the long-term preservation of properties that embody the County’s architectural, social, and cultural heritage.
County Mills Act contracts are only available to preserve historic properties located in the unincorporated areas of Ventura County. The County of Ventura established its Mills Act Program in 1994. Since that time, owners of historic properties have utilized the Mills Act Program across the county, including in the Ojai Valley, the Camarillo Heights area, and the community of Piru.
Mills Act contracts are for 10 years initially with automatic yearly renewal, and the contract stays with the property when transferred. Subsequent owners are bound by the contract and have the same rights and obligations as the original owner who entered into the contract.
Who is eligible?
To be eligible to apply for a Mills Act contract, a property must be designated as a Historic Landmark or a Historic District Contributor. For owners of qualifying properties, the Mills Act program offers a potential, significant reduction in property taxes that are then re-invested into the historic property and the local economy. The expectation is that tax savings will be used to help offset the cost of substantial rehabilitation, restoration, and maintenance work. The Mills Act tax rebate is not intended to pay for the entire rehabilitation of a property. Rather, it is meant to offset costs enough to incentivize the work to happen. All interior and exterior work on the site must be performed in conformance with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation.
What is required?
A Mills Act contract is a formal agreement between the County and the property owner for a revolving ten-year term. Contracts are automatically renewed each year and are transferred to new owners when the property is sold. The contracts are binding on all successive owners. Property owners agree to restore, maintain, and protect the property for the life of the contract in accordance with the specific historic preservation standards and conditions identified in the contract.
In addition to providing a Historic Resource Report for the site prepared by an architectural historian or another professional meeting the Secretary of the Interior Professional Qualifications Standards, property owners are required to prepare a 10-Year Rehabilitation Plan that specifies proposed rehabilitation and maintenance. The 10-Year Rehabilitation Plan is meant to help establish and prioritize the rehabilitation and maintenance needs of the property. Periodic inspections by County staff are required by state law to ensure proper maintenance of the property; County staff must inspect the property prior to entering into a Mills Act contract with a property owner, and conduct interior and exterior inspections every 5 years thereafter to determine the owner's continued compliance with the contract. In the event of a breach of the contract’s terms, the County may cancel the contract and the owners would be subject to a cancellation fee.
How are tax assessments determined for properties under the Mills Act?
After entering a Mills Act contract with the County, the next tax assessment roll will reflect the reduced property taxes, if any. Assessed values are based on the property status as of January 1st of each year, otherwise known as the lien date. For contracts approved before the end of the calendar year, tax assessments sent out by the Ventura County Tax Collector in June will reflect new property taxes. The actual property tax reduction may vary dramatically from property to property dependent on many factors, including the year the property was purchased. Pursuant to state law, the property tax reduction will vary annually based on the assessed property value, the property’s income-generating potential, market conditions, and other factors published by the California State Board of Equalization. Note that Special District assessments are not reduced under the Mills Act contract and new construction receives less property tax reduction in the formula generated by the Board of Equalization. With property values changing from year to year and the complexity of the formula, the County Assessor is unable to estimate future property tax reductions.
Program Information, Application Materials, and Resources
Mills Act contracts require a recommendation from the County Cultural Heritage Board and approval by the Board of Supervisors at a regularly scheduled public hearing.
Staff time for work on Mills Act contracts is paid through a collection of a deposit from the property owner (as applicant) and then charged at the hourly rate for Planners in the adopted Planning Division Fee Schedule. Annual fees pursuant to the Planning Division Fee Schedule are required to be paid by the property owner to cover the costs of administering the Mills Act Contracts and conducting inspections.
Application Materials Include:
- State Office of Historic Preservation FAQs
- State Board of Equalization Guidelines for the Assessment of Enforceably Restricted Historical Property
- California Government Code, Article 12, Sections 50280 – 50290
- California Revenue and Taxation Code, Article 1.9, Sections 439 – 439.4
- Sample Historical Property Contract
Where can I get more information?
Questions regarding potential property tax savings can be directed to the Ventura County Assessor’s Office at (805) 654-2181. Please ask to speak with a Special Properties Appraiser. Additional contact information for the Assessor’s Office can be found here.