Land values shock owners in Manastash - Landowners take concerns to assessor

Daily Record Online

A group of Manastash Creek Canyon landowners are exploring how to cap skyrocketing property valuations through a statewide initiative process.

But they also are seeking relief from the Kittitas County Assessor’s Office.

Property owners in the canyon eight to 11 miles southwest of Ellensburg received revaluation notices from the Assessor’s Office in the first week of June. The revaluations, in many cases, showed a doubling and a tripling of assessed valuation.

Nearly 40 landowners met Friday with Assessor Iris Rominger and other Assessor’s Office staff members to air their concerns and ask questions. They are concerned fast-rising valuations will increase their tax bill, making it harder to live on their land.

Verna O’Claire, 70, owns about 45 acres in the canyon. She said 41 acres of that parcel doubled in value. Another parcel under 4 acres next to the creek rose in value from $3,900 to $39,000, she said.

“You can imagine how outrageous this was when we first got the notices,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it. It’s very distressing for all of us in the canyon. We are worried about the future. Will the values just keep going up and up?”

She said the 41-acre parcel increased in value from $41,290 to $90,000 but is steeply sloping terrain and “can’t be reached now unless you have a helicopter.” O’Claire considers the acreage unable to be developed. She said the 4-acre parcel, to her knowledge, is in the Manastash Creek floodplain and can’t be used for a homesite.

She plans to meet with a county appraiser today to review her valuations and, possibly, receive an adjustment. Many other landowners are doing the same thing, she said.

Rominger said appraisers revalue about a fourth of the county’s 26,000 taxable parcels each year. This year’s revaluation area involved lands outside irrigation districts and included rural farm and recreation lands and property for homes.

About 6,200 revaluation notices for 2002 were mailed May 31, she said, and will be the basis for property tax bills going out in February 2003.

“I can sympathize with the property owners,” Rominger said. “Other areas of the county have struggled with this same trend in the past few years. We welcome working with individual property owners with their specific concerns.”

Rominger said state law requires the Assessor’s Office to revalue property at 100 percent of its fair market value. These values are determined by the sale prices of comparable properties in the area or similar properties in other parts of the county.

The last time the Manastash Creek Canyon area was revalued was 1998, she said. Rominger expects many of the owners to file appeals of their valuations to the Kittitas County Board of Equalization. The board, which starts hearing appeals in July, has the authority to review valuations and change them or deny them. Appeals after that must enter civil court.

“Some areas of the county have had somewhat lower valuations in the past few years because market activity was low,” Rominger said. “We are now seeing more sales of this type of property in the canyon.”

Will Baumann said he attended the Friday meeting and represented his family’s property in the canyon, which includes three parcels.

Two of the parcels have homes, one of which is the home of his father, Haldon Baumann, 75, who has owned the property since 1964. Baumann has lived full-time in the canyon for 12 years. Will Baumann has lived in the Kittitas Valley since 1992.

“We understand the Assessor’s Office is required to do their valuations by the state law,” Will Baumann, 43, said. “But there is a lot of latitude in how the provisions are applied and interpreted. We think there can be changes.”

Baumann said he would like to see the Assessor’s Office develop specific, standardized criteria to revalue land, taking into more consideration the slope and typography of parcels.

Exact locations of floodplains in relation to buildable areas of parcels also must be determined, he said, knowing homes can’t be built in those areas.

One of the Baumann family parcels went from $5,430 in value to $22,630 and another went from $54,890 to $79,810.

“The bigger picture here is we need a change in state law so people are not priced out of their homes,” he said.

The group of canyon landowners is exploring what it takes to get a statewide initiative approved and placed before voters that would put a cap on rising valuations. Baumann said limiting the value increases to 10 percent a year would be reasonable.

Bob Stowell, 68, another canyon landowner, said a statewide initiative is a good idea but would require connecting to a much bigger citizen organization.

“We are kind of small potatoes here,” he said. “It takes a lot of money and a lot of organization to take on a change in state law.”

Glenn Myers, senior appraiser in the Assessor’s Office, said sales of similar canyon properties in the Cooke, Colockum and Caribou canyons were used in some of the revaluations, as well as some sales in the Manastash Canyon.

He said some people have subdivided their buildable lands and this, too, increases their value. Some lands that were determined four years ago to not be able to be used for homesites have since been found to be buildable, he said.

“All this can increase the values on lands that haven’t changed in a long time,” Myers said.

He said doubling and tripling of values on some parcels in the Easton area also took place.


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