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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Friday — February 27, 2004


What’s your city worth?

Ketchum, Sun Valley lead state

Express Staff Writer

With assessed property values in Ketchum and Sun Valley reaching ever higher into the stratosphere, the two cities are continuing to establish themselves as anomalies in a state where "affordable" could be the first word in the Realtors’ dictionary.

The immense gap between the two Wood River Valley cities and other Idaho communities is indicative not only of an eye-popping disparity in land values, but also the fortune of the resort cities in their ability to create revenue.

With a 2002 net taxable market value of nearly $2.1 billion, Ketchum is among the state’s most highly valued cities, despite a rather meager population of only 3,000 residents.

The city’s 2002 assessed value nearly equaled that of Meridian, a city of 39,000 residents west of Boise.

"We are totally out of whack with what you call normal," said Ron LeBlanc, Ketchum city administrator.

Sun Valley, with approximately 1,400 residents, in 2002 earned an assessed value of just under $1.5 billion. Property values in the mountain hamlet that year were estimated to exceed those in the city of Twin Falls by more than $200 million.

The population of Twin Falls in 2002 was approximately 35,000.

Several other small cities in Idaho—such as Eden and Placerville—had 2002 market values that could easily be exceeded by that of a single upscale property in Sun Valley.

The valuations of property in other Blaine County cities show an undeniably direct correspondence to their proximity to Ketchum and Sun Valley.

In Hailey, a city of 7,000, the 2002 taxable market value of properties reached nearly $600 million.

Bellevue, with 2,000 residents, that same year recorded an assessed value of approximately $155 million.

Carey, a city of 525 in 2002, was reported to have a market value of just over $15 million.

Valdi Pace, Blaine County assessor, said Blaine County in 2003 was given a total assessed value of $6.7 billion.

"We are currently second in line in all 44 counties, behind Ada County," she said.

LeBlanc said Ketchum’s remarkably high property values have been a boon for the city, which in the current 2003-2004 fiscal year is operating under an approximately $8 million general-fund budget.

Nearly $2.3 million of the city’s $7.1 million in general-fund revenues in the 2002-2003 fiscal year came from property taxes.

However, LeBlanc said, because property taxes levied by cities are strictly limited by Idaho law, the city is in large part a beneficiary of fate and the taxing system, not policy.

Pursuant to a 1995 law, cities in Idaho can increase their revenue from property taxes by only 3 percent each year, unless the citizenry approves a greater tax assessment.

In Blaine County, city property taxes are added to other property taxes collected by the county and various taxing districts linked to public services.

LeBlanc said Ketchum has typically opted to take the 3 percent increase each year. However, because of growth and escalating property values, the city routinely lowers its approved tax rate, he said.

"We’re doing such big numbers that we still lower the mill rate to get to the three percent," LeBlanc said.

In 2003, Ketchum’s approved levy rate was .001093038, prompting a tax assessment of approximately $100 per $100,000 of taxable property value.

Ketchum’s tax rate, which is lower than those in all other Blaine County cities, is among the lowest in the state.

Jan Wellman, Sun Valley city administrator, said property values in that city closely mirror those of other mountain resort communities, such as Vail, Colo., and Park City, Utah.

"It’s pretty common in most resort areas," he said.

Wellman said Sun Valley this fiscal year is expected to receive approximately 45 percent of its general-fund revenue from property taxes.

"This city lives and dies on property tax and the local option tax," he said.

Wellman said he believes it is almost imperative for cities to collect the allowed 3 percent annual increase to offset costs incurred, which generally are not capped.

Like Ketchum, Sun Valley also typically lowers its tax rate each year but sees its overall property-tax revenues increase, Wellman said.

"That’s a good trend," he said. "If growth stopped, then we would probably see an increase in the tax rate."


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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.