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For the week of July 12 through July 18, 2000

Taxing decision

Equalization Board decides approximately 40 disputes


"We’ve got to get it straight or the assessor will set a precedent and who knows where it will go from here."

Ed Stricker, south county farmer


By KEVIN WISER
Express Staff Writer

After an exhausting week of four grueling sessions, Blaine County Commissioners—acting as the Board of Equalization—on Monday decided approximately 40 property tax appeals.

Once a year, the board measures property valuation assessments made by the county assessor’s office against claims by property owners that their land was assessed above its true value.

The inevitable result of higher assessments is higher property taxes.

Many south county ranchers and farmers have sharply criticized the process, claiming their rocketing property tax bills have been unfairly calculated.

Following Monday’s final equalization hearing, some assessments were sustained and some appeals were upheld.

Blaine County Assessor Valdi Pace couldn’t immediately come up with the final decision on each appeal. New tax bills will be mailed out next week, she said.

Appellants included residents throughout the county—from owners of million dollar mansions in Ketchum and Elkhorn to farmers and ranchers.

During the recent first round of appeals, south county farmer Ed Stricker was vocal in his criticism of the county’s assessment of south county property and threatened litigation if his tax burden wasn’t eased by the board.

Following Monday’s final hearing, the county’s assessment of Stricker’s property was reduced from $135,000 to $120,000.

Despite the $15,000 reduction, however, Stricker wasn’t happy.

"I’m not satisfied. They’re way out of line according to the rest of the state," Stricker said. "Where they come up with these hellacious prices I don’t know."

Stricker said the majority of south county farmers and ranchers "don’t like what they got. Taxation without representation, we don’t think it’s fair." Stricker said he would carry out his threat to take his dispute to court.

"We’ve got to get it straight or the assessor will set a precedent and who knows where it will go from here," Stricker said.

Stricker said he’s been getting calls from farmers and ranchers throughout the state who are concerned that assessors in their counties will follow the precedent set in Blaine County.

According to Assessor Pace, the property tax increase that sparked the south county disputes stems from the county’s decision to implement an updated State Tax Commission rule affecting the valuation of south county property.

Tax Rule 165 defines land actively devoted to agriculture. South county property owners dispute the way in which homesites or "that portion of land contiguous with but not qualifying as land actively devoted to agriculture" is figured into the assessed evaluation of property.

During an equalization hearing on Friday, appellant Richard Preissman, a south county farmer, disputed his homesite appraisal which went from $17,000 to $200,000 in the last two years.

"It’s the one-acre rural homesite assessment that’s gone through the roof," Preissman said. "What’s it going to be five years down the road?"

Representing Preissman, real estate consultant Tom Monge said, "I don’t think a rural one-acre homesite is the same animal as a homesite in a subdivision with amenities and roads [public services]."

County assessor Pace said the south county was under assessed in previous years, which shifted the tax burden to the north part of the county. The intent of the updated tax law, Pace said, is to provide a fair and equitable tax throughout the county.

Pace said that after receiving their final assessments from the county, property tax appellants will have 30 days to take their complaints to the State Board of Tax Appeals or Fifth District Court.

 

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