Friday, August 6, 2004

Commissioners to vote on assessments today

New assess-ments could arrive in postal boxes Monday

Express Staff Writer

It?s kind of like waiting for the results of a draft lottery. Property owners in Blaine County?s five incorporated cities are waiting to see if they will be among approximately 3,000 local property owners who are hit with higher property assessments next week.

The Blaine County Commission is scheduled to meet today at 10 a.m. to vote on how to cover a 24 percent deficiency in assessed values of resi-dential properties inside the five cit-ies? borders. The deficiency came to light Monday, Aug. 2, when commis-sioners met with representatives from the Idaho State Tax Commission, who said many local residential properties were assessed below their market values.

?We have a responsibility to bring the county into compliance, or we can turn it over to the outsiders from Boise and the Idaho State Tax Com-mission,? said County Commission Chairman Dennis Wright. ?But in reviewing the formula they would use, I don?t think that would be good for Blaine County.?

But the increase in assessed values will not necessarily translate into higher taxes, Wright said. The in-crease in the overall tax base will mean some property owners will experience a reduction in what they actually pay in property taxes. Others, however, will pay more.

?We?re not trying to raise people?s taxes,? Wright said. ?It?s only indi-rectly related to your taxes. But there are people out there who are paying taxes that are not fair compared with people who live in other similar areas. It?s literally a fairness issue.?

From 2003 to 2004, Blaine County raised assessed taxable property val-ues $1.1 billion, to $7.8 billion. But in residential areas within city borders, that wasn?t high enough.

At issue are approximately 6,800 residential properties that are within the borders of Carey, Bellevue, Hai-ley, Ketchum and Sun Valley. Some, though not all, of the properties are undervalued, Pace said.

The extreme pace of growth com-bined with the extreme inflation of property sales is the primary con-tributor, said Gregory Cade, adminis-trator of the tax commission?s county support division.

Under Idaho Code, the Blaine County Commission can convene as a Board of Equalization or defer to the Idaho State Tax Commission to re-solve the issue. If the tax commission makes the fix, it will add 24 percent value to all properties across the cate-gory, Cade said. The tax commis-sion?s decision is not subject to ap-peals.

If the county commissioners make the fix, they can look at particular properties that might be undervalued, and increases would vary depending on the property in question. The commission?s decisions are subject to a five-day appeal period.

Wright said he believes the county commission will take matters into its own hands, and will re-convene as a Board of Equalization to adjust ap-proximately half of the property val-ues in the category.

?We have been reviewing an aw-ful lot of the regions of the (county?s cities), and we do find some areas where, certainly, to achieve some equity within those communities, we are going to make some of those changes,? Wright said.

But nothing will be set in stone until the commissioners take a vote later today.

According to Cade, the state Board of Equalization will convene on Monday, Aug. 9 and stay in ses-sion until Monday, Aug. 23. Should the county take matters into its own hands, property owners who are hit with new assessments will have five days to appeal. The appeal period will probably run from Aug. 9 to Aug. 13, Cade said.

Cade said Blaine County was one of three Idaho counties that contained under-valued properties in this year?s assessments. Madison and Teton counties were in similar, though not identical situations. Both of those counties? straits have been resolved.

Cade said both Madison (Rex-burg) and Teton (Driggs) counties are experiencing a glut of new construc-tion, but inflation of property values in Blaine County far out-paces either of the others.

?I?m not sure the three counties are comparable,? Cade said.

Wright said he believes the ineq-uity of property values in Blaine County has its roots in several areas.

?One, we live in a very desirable area. Two, this is happening all over the county, and it?s caused by two policy functions on a federal level,? he said.

Interest rates have been too low for too long, and the homeowner?s exemption has made property specu-lation too accessible to too many people, Wright said.

?We are in an inflationary real estate market,? Wright said. ?What we?re trying to do is make certain that your contribution to the taxes in your community is equated to that of your neighbor and that of your neighbor across town. Nobody has a special deal.?

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