Friday, June 23, 2006

Blaine property values continue meteoric rise

Assessed values increase 18 percent over 2005 to $11.9 billion

Express Staff Writer

Despite what many view is a softening in the local real estate market, Blaine County's property values made another large leap this year, ending up at a preliminary assessed value of $11.9 billion, 18 percent higher than 2005's assessed value of $9.8 billion.

Last year's 21 percent rise to $9.8 billion from $8 billion in 2004 set the record for the highest percentage increase in Blaine County's total assessed property value.

As expected, the Blaine County Assessor's Office has seen a sharp increase in calls from upset homeowners and business owners since they received their property value assessments in the mail this month. Calls placed to the assessor's office already number well into the 100s, Blaine County Assessor Valdi Pace said Thursday.

"I was here at 7 (a.m.) and it started ringing then," she said.

Homeowners have until 5 p.m. Monday, June 26, to file an appeal of their assessed value with the Blaine County Assessor's Office. The question for homeowners to ask themselves is whether they could actually sell their home for its assessed value, she said.

While it won't have any effect on this year's assessments, Pace said there are early indications that there has been a decrease in 2006 sales prices. If that is true, property owners may benefit in the future.

"That will be reflected in the 2007 assessment," Pace said.

However, not every property receives onsite inspections by a county assessor each and every year. Physical inspections of properties in Blaine County are conducted on a rotating, five-year cycle. For property owners whose properties are not on the current physical inspection cycle, the county typically makes changes to their values using a method of trending or indexing.

The county assessor's office bases the trending on the analysis of real estate sales data it receives throughout the year. All sales used in the assessment process must have been a closed transaction prior to Jan. 1 of the current year.

Making the job of assessing property values especially difficult is the fact that Idaho is a non-disclosure state, meaning sales data for real estate transactions doesn't have to be reported to the local assessor's office.

For the Blaine County Assessor's Office, assessing property values for 2006 was especially difficult, Pace said. Since 1999, information on real estate sales reported to the assessor's office has dropped off significantly, she said.

In 1999, the assessor's office received sales information on 41 percent of real estate transactions in the county. In 2005, the year the 2006 assessments are based on, the assessor's office received sales information for only 13.6 percent of real estate transactions that took place in the county.

That number is the lowest percentage the county has ever received in the history of collecting sales data, Pace said. "That makes our jobs a little more difficult," she said.

It may also be placing undue burden on homeowners whose property values are being raised based on the limited data the county assessor's office has received, she said.

"It's unfair in my opinion," Pace said. "Somebody is paying more taxes than they should be."

She added: "The more information I have, the better job I can do."

One positive recent development is a law passed by the Idaho Legislature this year that increases the homeowner's exemption for primary homeowners from $50,000 to $75,000. A portion of the exemption will now be applied to land value as well as home value, Pace said.

In places like Blaine County the exemption should come as a great benefit for local homeowners living in cities with a high percentage of residences that are second or third homes, she said.

However, for a few, especially homeowners in Bellevue, the exemption may actually lead to a rise in levies assessed against them to pay for public services, Pace said. This year, Bellevue's total assessed property value actually decreased from approximately $346 million in 2005 to $341 million in 2006 due to the exemption.

"The city of Bellevue is made up of primary homeowners," she said. "Their net value went down."

"When the values go down the levies typically go up," Pace said. "The costs of services is not going to go down."

Every other municipality in the county, including the fast-growing city of Carey, saw their assessed values rise this year.

Throughout the county, many local residential and commercial property owners are feeling the pinch from the skyrocketing property values.

Ketchum City Councilwoman Terry Tracy is one such homeowner.

At a City Council meeting Monday, Tracy said she was shocked when she recently opened up her property value assessment. Inside, Tracy learned that the appraised value of her home had risen 60 percent.

"I was seconds from having to call the EMT to be revived," she said. "It's telling me I may not be able to stay in this community much longer."

Soon, Ketchum residents will either be people who qualify for affordable housing units and people who are "second-, third- or fourth-home owners," Tracy said.

Her shock prompted her to encourage people to file an appeal with the county assessor's office.

"It's a very easy process," Tracy said. "I just want the public to know I'm on the same boat that most of them are."

Another Ketchum resident and business owner who wished to remain anonymous said the assessed property value on his business went up 109 percent this year. The business owner, who has appealed his assessment, said the basic problem comes down to people arriving in the valley and paying too much for a piece of property.

For Pace, who has been a resident of the Wood River Valley since 1968, seeing rising property values level off somewhat would please her.

"I don't know how people who live and work here are coming here and paying these prices," she said.

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