Wednesday, August 11, 2004

City residential values raised 10 to 140 percent

Assessments appeal period opens today

Express Staff Writer

It was a working weekend for Blaine County Assessor Valdi Pace, who stayed up with her staff until 3 a.m. Saturday morning and then resumed work again at 8 a.m. in order to issue 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, when assessments are typically issued. Local residents who are affected should have received revised notices in the mail by Monday.

Property owners who want to appeal their assessments must schedule with the Blaine County Clerk?s Office by Friday, Aug. 13. The Blaine County Commission will convene as a Board of Equalization from today through Wednesday, Aug. 18, to hear appeals.

As of Tuesday, only three property owners had filed appeals, but Pace said she expects the number to grow as the Friday deadline looms larger.

The uncommon August exercise of boosting property values came to light on Monday, Aug. 2, when the Idaho State Tax Commission told county officials that residential properties inside borders of the county?s five cities were underassessed by an average of 24 percent.

In a 2-0 vote Friday morning, Blaine County commissioners Dennis Wright and Mary Ann Mix decided to take matters into their own hands, rather than turn the fix over to the Idaho State Tax Commission, which proposed a blanket 24 percent increase across the category.

?I believe we have chosen to do it ourselves because we know this community better than the tax commission,? Wright said.

Instead of looking at all 6,800 residential properties within the borders of Carey, Bellevue, Hailey, Ketchum and Sun Valley, the county chose to examine the 4,500 properties determined to be most undervalued.

For example, one east Hailey property owner received a notice in June that his property value increased from $55,000 to $72,000. This week, the same property was valued at $97,200, an additional 35 percent increase.

In Sun Valley, a single-family Fairways-area property received an 80 percent increase. The assessed value was boosted from $650,000 to $1.17 million. However, Pace pointed out that the property did not experience an increase in June.

?What it means is they?ll be paying more of their fair share,? she said.

The bulk of the revised assessments included about 20 percent value increases.

?I?d say that?s about average,? Pace said.

But a 20 percent increase in value does not translate into a 20 percent increase in property taxes. Bellevue Mayor John Barton said he has spent much of the past week explaining to his constituents that valuation increases and taxes are not directly related.

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

According to Idaho State Tax Commission Tax Policy Supervisor Alan Dornfest, everybody above the average change in value will pay more in taxes. Everybody below the average change will pay less.

?More than likely this will affect taxes, but not as much as assessments indicate,? Wright said.

Dornfest also attempted to explain the reason the state has gotten involved. It has to do with the state?s collection and disbursement of school taxes, but ?the main reason to do this is for equity among taxpayers.?

?It doesn?t raise a dollar more. It?s just splitting the dollar different ways,? he said. ?Basically, this whole thing is an equitable distribution of the property tax burden.?

What is happening in Blaine County is not unusual, said Gregory Cade, the Tax Commission?s county support administrator. Every July, the Idaho 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 this summer.

The problem, Cade and Pace agreed, is that Blaine County is growing exceptionally 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,? Dorn-fest said. ?It?s a moving target, if you will.?

As for Pace, the last week has not been easy.

?I am not personally responsible; however, I do have responsibility in this,? Pace said. ?It?s very unfortunate that it had to happen. I can tell you that it was very hard for me, and I?ve been going through the whole gamut of emotions on it.?

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