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By Kelly Shipp
For the Sentinel 

Assessor’s office dealing with high appeals and notices

 


On Nov. 3, 1,669 revaluation notices were sent out by the Klickitat County Assessor’s Office. For some property owners, the notice they receive might be their third or fourth notice this year. The number of reevaluation notices coupled with a high number of appeals—well over 500—has raised some questions by citizens and county officials about why this is happening and the effects on the county.

“I feel really bad that some people got two, three, or even four notices,” says County Assessor Darlene Johnson. “I know it is frustrating when you get multiple notices in the mail, and you probably think that we don’t know what we are doing, but the reason they are getting those notices is because we are really trying to make sure that everything is as accurate as possible.”

The typical schedule for revaluation would begin at the beginning of the year with inspections and the assessor using comparable sales within a neighborhood to analyze if adjustments need to be made. Notices would be sent out June 1. Anyone who wanted to appeal would do so by July 1, and the Board Of Equalization would start hearing cases in the middle of July.

“That did not happen this year,” says Johnson.

“Every time there is a change in value, we have to send out a notice,” adds Karen Reisenauer, Assessor Supervisor.

The notices that went out in November were corrections reported by property owners from the June 24 revaluation, new construction, corrections to parcels in the Klickitat River flood plain, and some were sent out to property owners who never got a notice in June.

Johnson and Reisenauer cited deficiencies in their software, a lack of resources, and mistakes made by the office as reasons for the irregularity.

“We are taking baby steps to improve our technology and our online resources” says Johnson. By March they hope to have updated their operating platform and their appraising software. Johnson continues,

“We are getting fewer and fewer resources to do our jobs, and that affects the taxpayer.” In 2012, the budget for the Assessor’s Office was $559,000, a two percent reduction from the 2011 budget of $569,000. Compared to some of the other departments in the county that had seven, 10, or even 35 percent reductions, the Assessor’s Office was one of the offices with the least amount of change.

Johnson does acknowledge that some mistakes have been made. She takes responsibility for using some outdated maps that mainly affected properties in the Klickitat River flood plain. In July the office updated the maps they were using, triggering the second round of revaluation notices. “I do not like to send out extra notices, but what I do like is to be as accurate as possible. I could have gotten by using the older maps, but since we got the better maps, we took the time to go through and update to what was actually there,” says Reisenauer. “For some, there were some big changes, especially around the flood plain.”

As of Dec. 13, well in excess of 500 appeals had been filed with the Board of Equalization (BOE), an independent board of three county residents appointed by the Board of County Commissioners that hears cases of appeal. Since July, only one case has been heard by the BOE, which was an appeal filed by Juniper Canyon Wind Project, a wind turbine company, which has now been appealed to the Washington State Board of Tax Appeals.

“Approximately 75 percent of appeals are in a current use program, and some have appealed both their Market value and their current use value, which is recommended by the Open Space Advisory Board,” says Reisenauer. “I am very confident that those values would be upheld in the BOE.”

“We won’t stipulate any of those values”, continues Johnson, “Without the current use, we would have had a very manageable number.” The assessor has the right in some cases to stipulate, or directly mitigate, a value with a property owner.

The Assessor’s Office is required to have an Open Space Advisory Board (OSAB). This board advises the assessor on how to value parcels in the farm/agricultural current use program on the productive capacity of the land. There has not been an OSAB since 2001. “Many of the values for these parcels have not changed in 10 years. This is the first year we have had an OSAB. I am under a lot of scrutiny, so I wanted to make sure we had this,” says Johnson.

The OSAB and the assessor collaborate and review leases of properties, productivity of the land, the current economic climate, and the cost of farming to determine values for property in the current use farm/agriculture program. According to Johnson, over a third of the county is enrolled in the program, which has a large impact when a third of the county has not revalued in a decade.

“I have worked through about half the appeals and have approximately 200 left,” says Reisenauer. “The ones we could handle quickly through correction we have already handled, some we have stipulated, others we are in the process of gathering information to go to the BOE. Some have been withdrawn once we explained to the tax payer why the value changed.” She continues that they do not enough staff and time to get the appeals resolved before the end of the year.

The values set by the assessor’s office determine the levies taxing districts use to collect taxes. When there are appeals that are not heard before the levies are calculated, the taxing districts possibly could not collect as much as they anticipated. “The districts know that there are always going be some exemptions to what they can collect. I know that this is a concern for the [county] treasurer,” says Johnson.

Both Johnson and Reisenauer stress the importance of the taxpayer to be proactive, to verify property details and changes with the assessor’s office, and to appeal if the taxpayer disagrees with the value. “The more the tax payer communicates with us too, the better it will be all around. We get really good data from appeals,” says Reisenauer. “And if anyone questions their value, please contact us,” continues Johnson, “Sometimes it will be a couple of days until we get back to you, but we will call you back. Our goal is to be as accuracy as possible.”

The application to appeal can be found at the Klickitat County Board of Equalization website, http://www.klickitatcounty.org/bdEqualization/.

 

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