Wednesday, June 8, 2005

Blaine properties worth nearly $10 billion

Assessed values increase 21 percent over 2004

Express Staff Writer

Blaine County's assessed property values made a record leap this year, catapulting from $8 billion to $9.7 billion, a 21 percent increase.

This year's boost in values only slightly tops last year's 20 percent increase.

Although taxes are determined from assessed property values, they may not increase proportionally, said Blaine County Assessor Valdi Pace.

Because the exercise of boosting values increases the county's taxable base, the levies exacted by the county, cities, school district, fire districts and ambulance district should be lower. In some cases, there will be tax decreases. In many cases, however, there will be tax increases.

To affect budget blueprints, citizens must attend budget meetings, which are commonly held during summer months.

"It is up to you, the taxpayer, to get involved and be a participant in those budget hearings to make sure your tax dollars are being spent wisely," Pace said.

The Blaine County Assessor's Office mailed property value assessments late last week, and the assessments should have arrived at many local residents' post office boxes by Saturday, Pace said.

Telephone activity at the assessor's office on Monday morning confirmed Pace's hunch.

"The phones have been ringing off the hook," she said.

By noon on Monday, the office fielded more than 100 telephone calls.

According to Pace, it is "probably valid" to assume that property values in Blaine County as a whole have jumped so significantly because property values in the southern parts of the county are moving upward very rapidly.

In Carey, for example, residential property values are up 175 percent. In the southern Hailey neighborhood of Woodside, residential property values jumped between 65 percent and 135 percent. In Bellevue, property values jumped 65 percent.

In residential portions of Hailey proper, residential values jumped an average of 80 percent. As an example, that means a 6,000-square-foot lot in Old Hailey jumped in assessed value from $150,000 to $270,000.

In Ketchum, residential property values crept along relative to the southern market. Increases in assessed value rose from between 15 percent and 40 percent.

In Smiley Creek, the southernmost community in the Sawtooth Valley and the northernmost community in Blaine County, property values rose an average of 25 percent, Pace said.

But residential properties are only a slice of the overall market. Commercial properties experienced significant increases as well, increasing 30 percent to 40 percent. Commercial properties in the Bellevue business park experienced a 75 percent average increase.

The dramatic rise in assessed property values is not only the result of a rapidly increasing market, but also increased scrutiny from the county assessor's office.

"What we did was, we concentrated on every piece of land because of what we went through last year," Pace said.

Last year, the Idaho State Tax Commission determined that several categories of local real estate were undervalued. In August, county leaders responded by issuing revised assessments to approximately 4,500 Blaine County property owners.

The affected properties experienced 10 percent to 140 percent value increases, on top of increases that hit them in June 2004.

The uncommon August exercise of boosting property values came to light in early August 2004, when the tax commission told county officials that residential properties inside the county's five cities' borders were undervalued by about 24 percent.

What is happening in Blaine County is not unusual, said Gregory Cade, the tax commission's county support administrator, in a 2004 interview. Every July, the state tax commission reviews county assessment records to ensure that equalization standards are met.

It happens every year statewide, and three counties were under the microscope last summer.

The problem, Cade and Pace agreed, is that Blaine County is growing too fast.

"There's really, really significant growth going on here," Cade said. "This is a very difficult challenge under the best of conditions."

And the conditions that created the problem are still at work.

"I don't want to leave the impression that this is a one-time fix," said Idaho State Tax Commission Tax Policy Supervisor Alan Dornfest. "It's a moving target, if you will."

What's more, Blaine County is not alone.

"It's not just happening here," said Blaine County Commission Chair Sarah Michael. "It's happening in Teton County, Idaho, Valley County, Ada County."

Michael said Idaho has must work to spread the cost of providing essential services more evenly. The current system relies too heavily on property owners.

Local option sales taxes and real estate transfer taxes are examples, she said.

"We think that there should be other ways to fund essential services," Michael said. "We want to work with our state representatives, work with the legislature and work on community education.

"We recognize that people are concerned. They're going to see their property assessments skyrocketing, and we want to let them know that there are programs, and also that it doesn't necessarily mean their property taxes are going to follow."

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