Property tax re-evaluations stun Clallam homeowners
by JIM CASEY
Peninsula Daily News
PORT ANGELES, WA-- Robin Rush, who owns a small house on five acres of land on Tara Lane, was stunned when he received his re-evaluation.
``The price of our land more than doubled,'' he said. ``I figured it out at 112 percent.''
Rush, who lives in the Monroe Road area southwest of Port Angeles, said he thought his taxes would climb about 11 percent.
``Home'' becomes a four-letter word at this time of the year.
It's when county assessors mail out notices of their re-evaluations of real property, most of them going to homeowners.
Reading what their lots and houses are worth at a fair-market value can lead from shock to rage to fear that their taxes will climb by the same degree.
That's usually not so.
Governments with a few exceptions may increase their income from property taxes by only 1 percent a year, thanks to Initiative 747 that voters approved in 2001.
That amount is divided among all the millions of dollars of assessed value across the county. That division determines each government's levy rate.
Initiative 747, which replaced a 6 percent cap, was declared unconstitutional by King County Superior Court Judge Mary Roberts in June.
But Roberts' order has been stayed while state Attorney General Rob McKenna appeals it.
Meanwhile, the 1 percent lid remains in place, and Clallam County Assessor Pam Rushton doesn't know yet how it will change individual property owners' tax bills.
The bills are the responsibility of Clallam County Treasurer Judith Scott, whose office will put them in the mail on Feb. 14, Valentine's Day.
Re-evaluation notices went out Oct. 6 for the 7,200 properties in unincorporated Clallam County on both sides of Port Angeles, plus some neighborhoods in the city that Rushton's employees physically inspected this year.
One sixth of properties in the county receives such inspections each year on a rotating six-year cycle.
Market, assessments up
The new 2006 total assessed value for this area is nearly $1.22 billion, up from 2005's total assessed value of nearly $830 million, Rushton said.
She said that that the booming real estate market, plus a lot of new construction, drove up the amount.
``This market has been a little crazy,'' she said.
Notices for the remaining 30,000-plus properties went out Oct. 27.
These re-evaluations are based on a computer model that compares each home to similar houses that were sold in 2005.
Because the model uses year-old sales figures, the computer re-evaluations usually lag behind current prices, Rushton said.
By state law, assessors must value property for taxes at 100 percent of its fair market price.
Assessor offers to talk
Rush, who lives on a fixed income after retiring after 40 years as a teacher and school administrator in Fresno, Calif., is worried about how he will pay his taxes.
``We paid just over $2,400, $1,200 each time'' in property taxes that are due twice a year,'' he said.
``I figure that this year it's going to be $2,600 to $4,000.
``It's hard. Each year, we have to dig into savings, which isn't the largest amount that you'd want. A teacher's retirement isn't very much.
``Now we're able to do it. Next year, it's going to be tougher to do it, and it's just going to get worse and worse.''
Rushton was surprised at that sort of jump.
``Somebody like that should definitely come in and talk to us,'' she said.
``We have to depend on the taxpayers to make sure our information is correct.
``We're human. we could have some bad information down here.``
Property owners may contact or visit the assessor's office in the Clallam County Courthouse, 223 E. Fourth St., Port Angeles, between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. weekdays.
They also can call 360-417-2400. West End residents may call 360-374-5324.
Reassessment news isn't any easier on Jefferson County taxpayers, either
by EVAN CAEL
Peninsula Daily News
BRINNON, WA-- The Jefferson County Assessor's Office reassessed properties in the Brinnon and Quilcene school districts this year, and reported an average increase per property of about 40 percent from last year.
``In some areas along the waterfront of the Hood Canal, we had some property values that doubled,'' said county Assessor Jack Westerman.
``But Brinnon is sort of a dual area.''
Brinnon has both waterfront properties, which saw the greatest increase, and timberland owned by the state Department of Natural Resources that did not rise much in value.
The combination meant that the average increase leveled off at about 40 percent from last year, said Westerman.
About 5,500 parcels of Jefferson County's 29,000 taxable properties were reassessed this year.
The average increase per parcel was 43 percent in Brinnon.
It was 36.5 percent in Quilcene.
Brinnon was higher because it has more waterfront property, Westerman said.
Real estate market
The increase can be attributed to an upward price trend in the real estate market, said Westerman.
He said the Assessor's Office cannot speculate as to future trends when reassessing properties, but must have current real estate sales figures to constitute the reevaluations.
But not everyone agrees with the re-evaluations of the Auditor's Office.
Joy and Joe Baisch of Brinnon are appealing their reassessment, as are at least 23 other property owners this year.
They feel the increase is too steep.
``The thing that amazed me was the increase jumped significantly,'' said Joy Baisch. ``To me it's crazy.''
Her home on three acres on Dosewallips Road went from an assessment of $288,200 four years ago to $386,970 this year.
That's a nearly $100,000 jump, a 34.3 percent increase, or 8.6 percent increase for each of the four years the value remained constant.
Baisch said six months before the county reassessed her home, she had her property independently appraised at no more than $350,000.
``I know what the house appraised for, and the county was wrong,'' said Baisch.
But Westerman said the 34.3 percent that Baisch's home increased in value is actually below average.
``Even that in this market is really nothing,'' said Westerman. ``But we totally understand the concern.''
The Baisches have an appeal hearing scheduled with the Jefferson County three-member Board of Equalization on Nov. 28 to argue their case.
The board is independent of the Assessor's Office.
If either party is still dissatisfied with the Board of Equalization's decision, an appeal can then be made to the State Board of Tax Appeals for a final decision.
In 2006, Brinnon property owners paid $7.99 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, and Quilcene property owners paid $9.33 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.
That means a property owner in Brinnon with a $200,000 home paid $1,598 in taxes and a Quilcene property owner a house at the same value paid $1,866 in property taxes.
Westerman said the rate per $1,000 should decrease by about 10 percent for the 2007 taxes in that area, but because most values increased by more than 10 percent, taxes will still go up next year in Brinnon and Quilcene.
He said he'll know the tax amount in late January of 2007.
Jefferson County is on a four-year cycle.
The county is separated into four reassessment sections -- Port Townsend School District, which includes only parcels incorporated in the City of Port Townsend; Brinnon and Quilcene school districts; Chimacum School District; and the unincorporated parcels in the Port Townsend School District, Gardiner and the West End.