What’s your city worth?
Ketchum, Sun Valley lead state
By GREGORY FOLEY
Express Staff Writer
With assessed property values in
Ketchum and Sun Valley reaching ever higher into the stratosphere, the
two cities are continuing to establish themselves as anomalies in a
state where "affordable" could be the first word in the Realtors’
The immense gap between the two
Wood River Valley cities and other Idaho communities is indicative not
only of an eye-popping disparity in land values, but also the fortune of
the resort cities in their ability to create revenue.
With a 2002 net taxable market
value of nearly $2.1 billion, Ketchum is among the state’s most highly
valued cities, despite a rather meager population of only 3,000
The city’s 2002 assessed value
nearly equaled that of Meridian, a city of 39,000 residents west of
"We are totally out of whack with
what you call normal," said Ron LeBlanc, Ketchum city administrator.
Sun Valley, with approximately
1,400 residents, in 2002 earned an assessed value of just under $1.5
billion. Property values in the mountain hamlet that year were estimated
to exceed those in the city of Twin Falls by more than $200 million.
The population of Twin Falls in
2002 was approximately 35,000.
Several other small cities in
Idaho—such as Eden and Placerville—had 2002 market values that could
easily be exceeded by that of a single upscale property in Sun Valley.
The valuations of property in
other Blaine County cities show an undeniably direct correspondence to
their proximity to Ketchum and Sun Valley.
In Hailey, a city of 7,000, the
2002 taxable market value of properties reached nearly $600 million.
Bellevue, with 2,000 residents,
that same year recorded an assessed value of approximately $155 million.
Carey, a city of 525 in 2002, was
reported to have a market value of just over $15 million.
Valdi Pace, Blaine County
assessor, said Blaine County in 2003 was given a total assessed value of
"We are currently second in line
in all 44 counties, behind Ada County," she said.
LeBlanc said Ketchum’s remarkably
high property values have been a boon for the city, which in the current
2003-2004 fiscal year is operating under an approximately $8 million
Nearly $2.3 million of the city’s
$7.1 million in general-fund revenues in the 2002-2003 fiscal year came
from property taxes.
However, LeBlanc said, because
property taxes levied by cities are strictly limited by Idaho law, the
city is in large part a beneficiary of fate and the taxing system, not
Pursuant to a 1995 law, cities in
Idaho can increase their revenue from property taxes by only 3 percent
each year, unless the citizenry approves a greater tax assessment.
In Blaine County, city property
taxes are added to other property taxes collected by the county and
various taxing districts linked to public services.
LeBlanc said Ketchum has typically
opted to take the 3 percent increase each year. However, because of
growth and escalating property values, the city routinely lowers its
approved tax rate, he said.
"We’re doing such big numbers that
we still lower the mill rate to get to the three percent," LeBlanc said.
In 2003, Ketchum’s approved levy
rate was .001093038, prompting a tax assessment of approximately $100
per $100,000 of taxable property value.
Ketchum’s tax rate, which is lower
than those in all other Blaine County cities, is among the lowest in the
Jan Wellman, Sun Valley city
administrator, said property values in that city closely mirror those of
other mountain resort communities, such as Vail, Colo., and Park City,
"It’s pretty common in most resort
areas," he said.
Wellman said Sun Valley this
fiscal year is expected to receive approximately 45 percent of its
general-fund revenue from property taxes.
"This city lives and dies on
property tax and the local option tax," he said.
Wellman said he believes it is
almost imperative for cities to collect the allowed 3 percent annual
increase to offset costs incurred, which generally are not capped.
Like Ketchum, Sun Valley also
typically lowers its tax rate each year but sees its overall
property-tax revenues increase, Wellman said.
"That’s a good trend," he said.
"If growth stopped, then we would probably see an increase in the tax