Wednesday, June 3, 2009

County property values reverse course

The last time countywide property values dropped was in 1987


By JASON KAUFFMAN
Express Staff Writer

This year’s total assessed value for properties in Blaine County has dropped for the first time in more than two decades, information from the county shows. Photo by Willy Cook

Figures released last week by the Blaine County Assessor's Office have dashed the notion that the Wood River Valley is immune from downturns in the nation's housing market.

According to the assessor's office, the total assessed value of all private property in Blaine County has dropped for the first time in decades.

Information released Thursday afternoon by Blaine County Assessor Valdi Pace states that the preliminary assessed value for the entire county is $11.9 billion. That number is based on real estate sales data from 2008.

This year's preliminary assessed value is roughly half a billion dollars less than last year's, which was $12.4 billion. Pace said she's not seen a drop in assessed values from year to year since she took over as county assessor in 1998.

"In 10 years, it's just gone up," she said.

Though the taxes that property owners pay will be determined from their assessed values, they may not increase proportionally.

State law sets a 3 percent cap on municipal and county property tax increases. Because rising or dropping values in turn increase or decrease the county's taxable base, the levies set by the county, cities, school district, fire districts and ambulance districts rise or fall depending on each year's assessments. In some cases, the amount of tax paid could go down. However, owners of properties whose assessments are raised will in most cases pay higher taxes.

In the Woodside area and in Bellevue, property values dropped by about 16 percent, county data indicate. Pace said this is the second year in a row that property values have dropped in those two areas. She said assessments declined by more than 30 percent in Woodside and Bellevue in 2008 and 2009.

Pace said homeowners in those two areas, which are important housing areas for the valley's working families, are reeling in the down economy. The rate of home foreclosures in those two areas is very high, she said.

"People have just had to walk away from their houses," she said.

However, not everyone in the Woodside area views the dropping property values in an entirely negative way. Longtime residents David and Patty Anderson said they believe the declining property values are simply correcting for previously unrealistic highs in the market.

"I have always thought the assessed value was over-inflated in the 90s," David Anderson said. "Thankfully, we didn't pull all of our equity out so that when values came back down we didn't turn upside down."

County values have been on the rise since 1982. The county saw a one-year dip in property values only once, in the late 1980s.

In 1986, the county's total assessed value was $1.095 billion, Pace said. One year later in 1987, the value dropped to $1.054 billion.

Not all areas of the county have seen assessed values drop. In a few select spots, such as condominiums in Sun Valley's Elkhorn neighborhood, assessments have actually risen slightly, Pace said.

Her office has been fielding phone calls from Elkhorn condominium owners who are wondering why their home values have risen in a down economy. She said the rising values are actually just correcting several years of overlooked assessments on Elkhorn condominiums.

County homeowners, including those in Elkhorn, have until June 22 at 5 p.m. to challenge their assessed property values. Between June 25 and July 13, the Blaine County Board of Equalization, which is made up of the three-member Blaine County Commission, will hear those appeals.

Pace said it's up to homeowners to bring data that refute the county's assessment for their properties. Information like sales from similar properties can be used.

Pace said the county doesn't change assessments based on the price of current home listings.

The assessor's office estimates that about 50 homes have sold in the county so far this year.

Despite all the declines the county has seen, Pace still feels the area's housing market is slightly removed from the rest of the nation. However, she said the local scene has edged closer to the realities of the nation's housing market than ever before.

Jason Kauffman: jkauffman@mtexpress.com

Blaine County property values drop

For the first time in more than two decades, values in Blaine County have dropped from the previous year. Here's a rundown of the total assessed value of all private property in Blaine County for the past 10 years:

2000: $5 billion

2001: $5.6 billion

2002: $6.5 billion

2003: $6.7 billion

2004: $8 billion

2005: $9.8 billion

2006: $11.7 billion

2007: $12.3 billion

2008: $12.4 billion

2009: $11.9 billion

Data provided by the Blaine County Assessor's Office




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