County hears property tax appeals
By KEVIN WISER
Express Staff Writer
Before the first of a full slate of appeals by disgruntled tax payers was
heard, Scott Irwin, a member of the Idaho Tax Commission set the tone for the day.
"These board of equalization
things are never fun," Irwin said.
During Fridays hearing, the Blaine County Commissioners, acting as
the Board of Equalization, heard disputes involving the countys assessment this year
of 18 properties throughout Blaine County.
Appellants included a cross section of Wood River Valley
residentsfrom south county farmers and ranchers to owners of million dollar mansions
in Ketchum and Elkhorn.
The majority of appeals, however, came from the south county where
property assessments rose sharply this year.
The increase, according to Blaine County Assessor Valdi Pace, stems from a
clarification by the State Tax Commission of a rule concerning the property valuation of
south county land.
South county ranchers Bud and Nick Purdy saw the assessed value of their
property rise from $17,000 in 1999 to $300,000 for the year 2000. The higher the assessed
value of a property the higher the property tax.
In the appeal format, appellants were given three minutes to argue why
they thought their land was assessed above the property value. The assessors office then
had three minutes to defend their assessment. The appellant was then given two more
minutes to rebut.
Nick Purdy not only objected to the countys assessment of his
property but to the appeal format.
"I strongly object to the three minute format," Purdy said.
"We feel this is such as important issue for the preservation of agriculture in the
south county we are prepared to set the record and go to Fifth District Court if
Other appellants also threatened litigation if their tax burden
wasnt mitigated by the board.
In disputing the assessment, Nick Purdy argued that enforcing the new tax
law based on the speculative values of farmland was in conflict with the countys
comprehensive plan and its mandate to preserve productive agriculture in the south county.
The plan states that development and recreational demands "create
excessive and speculative values for land used in farming
.declaring taxes based upon
comparable sales would impose an inequitable and unjust tax burden upon agricultural
properties that would endanger the economy of the state."
Purdy called the increase of the appraised value of this property an
inequitable and unjust tax burden.
Referring to the struggle farmers and ranchers face in todays
depressed agricultural economy, Purdy said, "all weve done is lose money for 10
years. We want to keep ranching but dont enforce a tax policy that forces us
Both Nick and his father, Bud, argued that the value of their ranch is
tied up in speculative estimates since zoning restrictions in the south county dont
allow them to subdivide and sell the land in order to realize the full value of the
Following Mondays appeal hearing, however, Blaine County assessor
Pace said the duty of the assessors office is to assess the market value of the
"Subdivision and zoning is not my department," Pace said.
"My job is to analyze whats going on in the market and base assessments on what
the property could be sold for."
Pace said that in previous years property in the south county was
under-assessed which shifted the tax burden to the north part of the county. Pace said the
intent of the updated version of tax Rule 165 is to provide a fair and equitable tax
throughout the county.
"Any time you have a change in tax laws theres a shift in the
tax base," Pace said.
County commissioner Dennis Wright said the purpose of the Board of
Equalization is to "equally spread the burden of taxes and strive to maintain
equality in the system."
However, Wright acknowledged that no one likes paying taxes and most all
tax payers say taxes are too high.
Beside the south county appeals, the Board of Equalization also heard
complaints from Ketchum, Elkhorn and Hailey property owners.
Wilfred Lemon owns property in Hailey east of McDonalds restaurant.
Lemon said that because of forced annexation by the city of Hailey nine years ago, he was
being forced to pay bond indebtedness previously incurred by the city.
Lemon also complained that access to his neighborhood was "still a
dusty dirt road."
"I feel justification for a tax break has been established,"
Lemon said. "The city has had nine years to upgrade the road out there."
As was the case with the majority of the appeals heard Monday, the board
opted to further deliberate before making a decision on the Lemon appeal.
Commissioner Leonard Harlig advised the assessors office to
re-evaluate its assessment of Lemons property based on the fact that access to the
neighborhood has not been paved.
Pace said the Board of Equalization is scheduled to hear 22 more appeals
over the next week. The board is required to make final decisions on the appeals by July