Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Property values down, tax rate could go up

Hailey, Bellevue lead valley in value decreases

Express Staff Writer

County Assessor Valdi Pace, right, discusses the tax-deeded properties up for auction with County Commissioner Larry Schoen. The properties, seized by the county for unpaid back taxes, were set to be auctioned for a total minimum of the $11,994 owed. Only two properties sold, for a total of $11,700. Photo by Willy Cook

Countywide property values declined for the third straight year in a row, but residents may not see corresponding drops in property taxes, county staff reported Tuesday morning.

The total taxable value of all county property is just under $9.4 billion, an 11 percent decrease from last year's estimated $10.5 billion.

"The value decreased as anticipated," County Assessor Valdi Pace said. "There are even higher decreases in some areas."

But county commissioners agreed that as property values fall, property tax rates—or the amount charged per $100,000 of property value—would have to rise in order to fund the county budget at its current levels.

"The levy rates are going to have to go up," Commissioner Larry Schoen said. "People will question, 'How is it possible my taxes are going up in this environment?'"

A similar situation arose last year, when the commissioners voted to increase the property tax rate from .09 percent to .11 percent, which translated to an approximately $20 rise per $100,000 of assessed property value. Because taxes are levied per dollar of value, if the amount of revenue required by the county remains the same for fiscal 2012, it will be spread over a smaller tax base, causing the rate per dollar of property value to rise. For some, including Commissioner Tom Bowman, that resulted in a higher tax bill last year.

"My property value went down less than average, so my taxes went up," he said.

Pace said that was true of many county residents whose property values did not drop as much as the county average.

"We had a lot of people shocked," she said. "People's values went down and taxes went up. It was very hard for them to understand."

Property value changes varied widely across the county, however. The largest decreases came from the south valley, where the Woodside area of Hailey has experienced drops of 40 to 75 percent. According to Assessor's Office staff member Traci Beer, South Hailey Townhouses saw decreases of 75 percent, while property in Deerfield, Foxmoor, Hiawatha Estates and greater Woodside lost roughly 40 percent.

The decreases are mostly due to the high rate of foreclosures, Beer said. Property values are assessed using home sale prices, and extremely low prices such as those seen in foreclosure sales can bring down values in an entire area.

"The majority of all sales [in Hailey and Bellevue] were either short sales or foreclosures," Beer said. "Even on some of the open-market sales, people had brought their prices down to foreclosure prices in order to sell."

Beer said 90 percent of the sales in Hailey and Bellevue were foreclosures or short sales, which are sales at prices less than what is owed on the property. This effectively sets the sellable value much lower than an area such as Ketchum, which was appraised by county staffer Tammy Robison.

"In my area, I don't deal with a lot of foreclosures," she said. "If there's only one in the neighborhood, I can't consider that a true market sale. [Beer] has more foreclosures in that neighborhood than are selling on the open market."

Agricultural land saw the smallest decreases, with values in all but a small area near Minidoka remaining the same as last year. Land values in the Warm Springs area of Ketchum also remained steady from last year, though the Board Ranch, Ketchum residential land and townhomes went down about 10 percent.

Housing still not affordable?

Despite the property value decreases, Blaine County Housing Authority Director Kathy Grotto said many families still cannot afford to buy homes.

"The median price of homes is nearly double what we consider affordable," she said during a county budget request on Tuesday.

Linda Thorson, chair of the authority's board of commissioners, said that while home prices are going down, so is countywide median income. County Commissioner Larry Schoen agreed, saying that there is still an ongoing demand for more affordable housing in the wider area.

"Income and prices are still mismatched," he said. "People see foreclosures and short sales, and assume that takes care of our housing needs."

The Blaine County Housing Authority requested $105,000 in county funding for fiscal 2012 to develop a housing-needs assessment for the county. Last year, the authority requested and received $63,650 from the county.

Katherine Wutz:

Auction draws limited interest, bids

A public auction of county tax-deeded property won little interest on Tuesday, with the three lots drawing a total of only two bids.

Two vacant lots in the Mountain Sage subdivision off Woodside Boulevard in Hailey were sold to the highest bidder, Gannett resident Kyle Kimball. The minimum bid for each lot was $5,675.90, the amount of the outstanding county property taxes. Kimball, the sole bidder, paid $6,000 for the first lot and reduced his bid to $5,700 for the second.

The third lot, a small piece of property at the entrance to East Fork Road, received no bids despite a minimum of under $650. County Assessor Valdi Pace and Land Use and Building Services Director Tom Bergin agreed the lot was likely not developable, due to its size and a Blaine County Recreation District easement that runs through the widest part of the property.

The third lot remains in county hands, though Commissioners Tom Bowman and Angenie McCleary said they would support giving the land to the district in lieu of a bidder.

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