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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2001 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of November 14 - 20, 2001


State to investigate resortís tax valuation

Express Staff Writer

A Sun Valley resident, who believes that property taxes are being unfairly assessed, has filed a written complaint with Idaho State Tax Commission. The complaint has spurred the commission to begin launching an investigation of the assessment of Sun Valley Resort property by Blaine County Assessorís Office.

This year, the office set the value of Sun Valley Co.ís 50-acre commercial core ó the location of the resortís famous lodge, ice rink and mall ó at $247,900 per acre for tax purposes. The question raised, however, is whether that amount is too low compared to the value set on other nearby property. The assessorís office, for example, set the value of commercial property two miles west in downtown Ketchum at $4.4 million per acre.

The lower the assessment, the lower the property taxes. If the resortís assessment is too low, then the countyís tax burden is unfairly shifted away from the resort owners to other tax payers.

Valdi Pace, who was elected to head the assessorís office three years ago, is comfortable with the numbers, even though she did not personally calculate them and cannot fully explain them, because, in part, she is trained in residential appraising, she said, not commercial.

"I look forward to the Tax Commission coming in here and doing an investigation," she said. "Because if weíre not doing something correctly, I definitely want to be the first one to change it. But I donít feel uncomfortable. I donít feel that this value is out of line."

Pace, who for the previous month declined to discuss the issue publicly, agreed to an interview last week. She had new information that could help explain the resortís seemingly low valuation.

In 1980, the assessorís office set the value of the land in the resortís 50-acre commercial core at $14.7 million, more than $2 million higher than todayís assessment.

But Utah billionaire Earl Holding had purchased the entire 2,154-acre resort, including ski lifts, buildings, land and equipment, for only $12 million just three years earlier in April 1977.

Holding balked at the countyís higher assessment, which climbed to $21.5 million for the entire resort by 1982. Resort managers unsuccessfully filed an appeal with the county Board of Equalization, then with the Idaho Board of Tax Appeals and then in Fifth District Court.

All this is documented in a two-decade-old file that was apparently recently rediscovered in the county courthouse.

The matter, documents in the file reveal, was settled in 1983 by a California arbitrator, who reset the entire resortís tax valuation at $12.5 million for 1980 and then tied any future increases to the Consumer Price Index, or 2 percent annually, whichever was lower.

Those rules on the size of increases appear to have subsequently changed to allow for greater increases, but just how or when the rules changed is not clear. State law now requires the county to assess land at market value, which has increased by far more than 2 percent annually for several years.

The countyís head appraiser, Ken Haught, said that he personally did the appraisal work on Sun Valley Co.ís 50 acres in 1990, when he set its value at $14.9 million, and in 1995, when he set the value at around $16 million. Then, between 1995 and 2001, the value went as low as $9.9 million, before a county appraiser increased it to the current value of $12.4 million. "I donít know why," Haught said.

Haught and other assessors keep few notes of their appraisal methods. A short hand-written comment on the 2001 appraisal card for the 50 acres states that the appraiser simply increased the previous $9.9 million assessment by 25 percent.

"What she did is she just figured a 25 percent increase in value from the last physical inspection to this physical inspection," Haught said. "She probably looked at growth rates," gleaned from information property sellers voluntarily provide to the county, to determine the increase amount.

Haught said usual methods of assessing value donít apply to Sun Valley Resort because it is a unique piece of property that canít be compared to other property in the county.

He and Pace declined to comment on what effect they believe the 1983 arbitration has on the amount of taxes Sun Valley Resort pays today.

Pace said an attorney from the Idaho Attorney Generalís Office and an appraiser from outside Blaine County would conduct the investigation, which might not be completed until May.


The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.