Saturday, September 15, 2007

Friday's (14 Sep) Follow-up Mtg. with Commissioners and Assessors

The meeting yesterday (14 Sept 07) with Commissioners Zogmaister & Dearden, Assessor Madson and her staff - Larson, Olsen, Brunker, Appeals Clerk and several of the appraisers, was the usual "Hey look at me and my personal tax situation myopia."

I finally (after listening to this same group for 45 minutes on Wednesday night) just said "STOP!" Would you just please stop it!" I came here to talk about the "forest" and you people are talking about your personal "trees". And worse, to the most expensive BOE gathering in history. We have two commissioners, an assessor and her entire staff sitting here for hours and we all need to have our "Please just stop it."

FINALLY we broke into groups with the hi-power remaining and the individual cases going off to another room for individual satisfaction.

The Huntsville lobby (myself included) hammered them on the disparate evaluations both in Town and in the Valley. And I read them the legal precedents established by the US Supreme Court in the Allegheny Pittsburg Coal Vs. Webster County Commissioners and Phyler Vs. Doe decisions. And I again appealed on behalf of the entire Valley for a complete assessment redo. They admitted they did a "mass appraisal" but then Assessor Madson insisted they went in personally to confirm the mass appraisal. I said if you can do a "mass appraisal" then you can do a "mass reappraisal" using the current market downturn information.

“Wing lady” Debrorah Hegg, a Century 21 Realtor, was there and was a very strong and eloquent voice on behalf of the entire Valley and not just Huntsville. She got the assessor to say “OK, with no "comps" any recent sale would suffice in an appeal.”

To make a long story shorter, Larson, the assistant assessor, said basically if enough people show up from Huntsville (or the Valley) with appeals and they find that they have a "big problem". If there is property on which there are obvious errors he would personally make "automatic" appeals on the part of those who have been wrongly assessed. He would not commit to anything like how many, who, or even what number of appeals it would take for him to do this. Richard Creamer, also a “Wingman”, tried diligently to make him commit. But Larson would not. Still. Mr. Larson did say he had given instructions for the appeals board members (Board of Equalization) to be "very flexible" and "very lienant" with appeals from Huntsville Town in particular, since it has so many older people, who are the most vulnerable living in it and who are confused and unable to help themselves.

Another "Wingman" told how he is 65 years old and has to come out of retirement to "swing a hammer again" in order to pay his taxes. He will have to climb on roofs and do things he had previously retired from doing all because of these Valley wide assessments, which are grossly inflated.

And another "Wingman Doug" told of how he lived in Eden. And how he had ten kids and delivered papers and worked other jobs. He simply could not pay his taxes this year for the first time in his life because he could not afford them and still feed his family.

Another "Wing lady” from Evergreen gave an eloquent speech asking if in their hearts any of the Commissioners or the Assessors gave any thought at all to the harm they had caused and are causing people in the Valley. Commissioner Zogmaister claimed it is all the State legislature's fault and said many times “We do know, all we can do is follow the law.” "It's the law. It is the law". I recorded tick marks and she said "law" about twenty times in three minutes. And finished saying whoever replaced them as County Officials, due to this tax situation, would have the same laws to contend with unless there were some changes made in the law this next session. Frankly some of what she said is true. But the commissioners and the assessor without doubt took a cavalier attitude toward us in the Valley and our Town. They had it within their authority to drastically lower our tax rates to offset the real dollars charged as taxes as TNT is supposed to have happen. But they made a conscious decision to not do it. No matter what the “Truth in Taxation” law she so heavily impugned says about such heavy handed taxation.

I asked who audited their assessors' work. Assessor Madson replied, "The State Tax Commission", which of course is not a real answer to the question. The State Tax Commission oversees all local - county assessors. They only audit when someone with enough political clout requests it. Rep. Froerer agreed to ask the State to audit them at my request in early August, but I do not know that they ever agreed to do it. They had previously been asked by Rep. Froerer to audit the School District's building contractual arrangements as I understood him to say. "What's one more?"

I requested an explanation why Huntsville Town was being doubly-taxed. A few present like this one jerk tried to discredit the question and me for even raising the issue. "We've tried to explain this to you at least a half dozen times Mr. Bell!"

But the truth is, not one soul anywhere in that building has ever had any conversation with me on this subject. The "truth" is not in this particular jack-ass, who is according to Assessor Madson in her introductory remarks from 15 August, over the "Real Estate" function of the Assessors' office. I have never spoken with this gentleman in my life. That just might well be the root cause of the summer of our discontent. A confused or dishonest administrator in charge of real estate assessments.

But none present, including the entire assessors' staff could explain or answer my simple questions. We met afterward in a private setting with only me and my wife taking notes. An expert was called in to attempt to explain. The only one, who could explain it plainly, said Mr. Brunker, appeals clerk was Dan Olsen, a CPA Comptroller from the County Auditor's Office.

Dan, with dead pan and dispassionate monotone, went through the drill, but I could tell his heart was not in it. He said because the unincorporated areas have more population and more sales tax, new growth, impact fees, building inspector fees, etc. the unincorporated areas around Huntsville Town pay more into the County coffers. And the unincorporated areas therefore actually more than cover any County expenses for “services”, where the same is not true of Huntsville Town. That is why the Town of Huntsville has a higher tax rate than the surrounding areas. The Town is actually paying more to get services. (And that is supposed to make sense?) It ended up with him stating the portion we Huntsvillians pay to the County coffers goes exclusively to pay for the Weber County Building and everyone in its' salaries. And Huntsville property taxes also support the Sheriff's office, jail - a major expense, and the County Health Department.

I asked him to go down his list of "services" and explained we in Town already are paying for each, e.g. we are already paying $40,000 to the Weber County Sheriff's Office on top of the higher property tax rates which cover those expenses, but we are already paying $6,800 to the Weber Co. Animal Control on top of the higher property tax rate which also cover those expenses, but we are already paying for our own roads and snow removal using State - not County, B&C funding, etc. But we are already paying for our own JP Court, our own building inspector ($6,000), our own water, our own secondary water, electrical light bills, utilities, insurances, administration, cemetery, the list continues.

Dan finally let the truth out. He said, "This case of where Towns and Cities are being doubly-taxed has been up and down in the legal system for years. It has made it to the Supreme Court several times. And if you want my personal opinion on the matter? Yes, you are being double taxed. He said if the Town were unincorporated it would save money, since it is, in fact, being charged more as an incorporated Town than if it were simply an unincorporated area. He said our tax rate might increase but the increase would not be enough to even notice. There would be a savings on all that we are already paying for, which we would no longer have to pay. This is amazing stuff folks!

I also had a private meeting with Assessor Madson explaining what we are going to do next and why. I said personally I liked her well enough, but I was mad as hell at her for what she and her staff had done to our Valley and Town. And I believe if she had performed her quality and control and administrative duties, none of this would have taken place - State law or no law. She said there were a lot of people mad at her.

Others in attendance heard entirely different things said and not said no doubt. But this is the way I recorded it.

I have heard there are some, who fear their taxes might go up even higher if they appeal. After the hell I’ve raised I have been all but guaranteed mine will. But don’t despair, if we are to get the attention of a group of poorly lead but arrogant and obstinate “let’em eat cake” types, who actually believe the Valley was properly assessed, we must all endure this. You must file your appeals on Monday before five o’clock, as I understand their hours. Paul Newey's lovely daughter works there and simply takes your appeal paperwork. She checks it over and date stamps and copies the cover for proof later, should there be any dispute about when it was filed. She is a pure joy to deal with. So don’t be shy. Go or send your appeal in Monday. It is your last chance to file an appeal.
Minor Machman

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