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For the week of July 4 through July 11, 2000

County hears property tax appeals

Express Staff Writer

Before the first of a full slate of appeals by disgruntled tax payers was heard, Scott Irwin, a member of the Idaho Tax Commission set the tone for the day.

South county rancher Bud Purdy appeals the county’s assessment of his property’s value before the Board of Equalization while his son, Nick, waits his turn. Express photo by Willy Cook"These board of equalization things are never fun," Irwin said.

During Friday’s hearing, the Blaine County Commissioners, acting as the Board of Equalization, heard disputes involving the county’s assessment this year of 18 properties throughout Blaine County.

Appellants included a cross section of Wood River Valley residents—from south county farmers and ranchers to owners of million dollar mansions in Ketchum and Elkhorn.

The majority of appeals, however, came from the south county where property assessments rose sharply this year.

The increase, according to Blaine County Assessor Valdi Pace, stems from a clarification by the State Tax Commission of a rule concerning the property valuation of south county land.

South county ranchers Bud and Nick Purdy saw the assessed value of their property rise from $17,000 in 1999 to $300,000 for the year 2000. The higher the assessed value of a property the higher the property tax.

In the appeal format, appellants were given three minutes to argue why they thought their land was assessed above the property value. The assessors office then had three minutes to defend their assessment. The appellant was then given two more minutes to rebut.

Nick Purdy not only objected to the county’s assessment of his property but to the appeal format.

"I strongly object to the three minute format," Purdy said. "We feel this is such as important issue for the preservation of agriculture in the south county we are prepared to set the record and go to Fifth District Court if necessary."

Other appellants also threatened litigation if their tax burden wasn’t mitigated by the board.

In disputing the assessment, Nick Purdy argued that enforcing the new tax law based on the speculative values of farmland was in conflict with the county’s comprehensive plan and its mandate to preserve productive agriculture in the south county.

The plan states that development and recreational demands "create excessive and speculative values for land used in farming….declaring taxes based upon comparable sales would impose an inequitable and unjust tax burden upon agricultural properties that would endanger the economy of the state."

Purdy called the increase of the appraised value of this property an inequitable and unjust tax burden.

Referring to the struggle farmers and ranchers face in today’s depressed agricultural economy, Purdy said, "all we’ve done is lose money for 10 years. We want to keep ranching but don’t enforce a tax policy that forces us out."

Both Nick and his father, Bud, argued that the value of their ranch is tied up in speculative estimates since zoning restrictions in the south county don’t allow them to subdivide and sell the land in order to realize the full value of the property.

Following Monday’s appeal hearing, however, Blaine County assessor Pace said the duty of the assessor’s office is to assess the market value of the property.

"Subdivision and zoning is not my department," Pace said. "My job is to analyze what’s going on in the market and base assessments on what the property could be sold for."

Pace said that in previous years property in the south county was under-assessed which shifted the tax burden to the north part of the county. Pace said the intent of the updated version of tax Rule 165 is to provide a fair and equitable tax throughout the county.

"Any time you have a change in tax laws there’s a shift in the tax base," Pace said.

County commissioner Dennis Wright said the purpose of the Board of Equalization is to "equally spread the burden of taxes and strive to maintain equality in the system."

However, Wright acknowledged that no one likes paying taxes and most all tax payers say taxes are too high.

Beside the south county appeals, the Board of Equalization also heard complaints from Ketchum, Elkhorn and Hailey property owners.

Wilfred Lemon owns property in Hailey east of McDonald’s restaurant. Lemon said that because of forced annexation by the city of Hailey nine years ago, he was being forced to pay bond indebtedness previously incurred by the city.

Lemon also complained that access to his neighborhood was "still a dusty dirt road."

"I feel justification for a tax break has been established," Lemon said. "The city has had nine years to upgrade the road out there."

As was the case with the majority of the appeals heard Monday, the board opted to further deliberate before making a decision on the Lemon appeal.

Commissioner Leonard Harlig advised the assessor’s office to re-evaluate its assessment of Lemon’s property based on the fact that access to the neighborhood has not been paved.

Pace said the Board of Equalization is scheduled to hear 22 more appeals over the next week. The board is required to make final decisions on the appeals by July 10.


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