Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Recent News-Do'in all I can. But....

Hola Friends and Neighbors,

The reason we went to this blog format was to have an open discussion. Are you not comfortable with the blog foremat? I want to know what you think. I want you to tell me if I am FUBAR on any subject or whether you agree or not with this or that point. Do you think Gage and the recent "seniors" protective legislative proposals are what I think they are? Do you agree about AB's flat tax idea? You see folks this can't be a "one-way" conversation. I need to know if I am speaking for you or just for myself. That's all.


Minor machman

Ogden Standard Examiner
Guest commentary: Huntsville: town for sale -- can't afford the taxes
Tuesday, September 18, 2007 By D-Bell Guest commentary

We were shocked in August. No, Utahns were shocked. Ogden Valley and specifically Huntsville town was dumbfounded at the assessed real estate values.

How could Bill Anderson's ol' place -- gutted and belly deep in weeds -- be listed at $450,000, now marked down on MLS at $350,000? To quote the immortal Bard, "Something is rotten in Denmark."

My research online showed valley wide -- perhaps statewide -- dumbfounding was not only justified, but that Huntsville town is the highest-taxed town or city in the state, if not the country. Also discovered were tax evaders and cheats who are taking from their neighbors, but the law will handle those people in due time unless they straighten up and fly right quickly.

Huntsville town's tax rate was reduced by 3 percent in 2006 and 13 percent in 2007. And the town's general fund tax rate was reduced 43 percent to hold the amount steady under truth-in-taxation mandates. Property owners in unincorporated areas had lower tax rates than Huntsville both in 2006 and 2007.

However, the 2006 town residence tax rate decrease (3 percent) was accompanied by an increase in taxable assessed values on the order of some 60 percent. Our residences' tax rate was also decreased this year by 13 percent, yet our aggregate residential property taxes increased by almost 91 percent per household.

This disparity promises to be even more next year.

Let me try to explain what is happening. The county commissioners have written off Ogden Valley. Too few permanent residents/voters. They will say to Standard-Examiner columnist Charlie Trentleman (who this year only paid about $1.39 in property taxes more than last year) and the others in the densely populated metro area: See, we taxed all those rich people in the valley. We are taking care of you, so vote for us again. In effect, they are using our inflated property tax money to buy votes. This is Machiavellian and the good people all over Weber County need to understand what we have elected.

We have already written a petition asking for fair and equitable reassessments. We appealed to commissioners' sense of common decency and fairness with our petition. They turned us down flat.

Rep. Froerer met with commissioners and the school district twice, proposing a Davis County-style tax-rebate scheme. They turned us down flat again.

Now let me say a word or two about "Shirley." She is a widow living alone and in her 80s. Her home, built in 1908, assessed at $109,666 in 2006 (up 63 percent from 2005). But this year, her little cottage on .38 acres was assessed at $238,851 (a 117.7 percent increase in market value) and 91.9 percent in taxes.

"Shirley" fits in the mean, median and mode of all Huntsville town parcels, and therefore serves as a metaphor for the average property owner in Huntsville. She has been reassessed two years running, and the assessment increased 415 percent.
Her taxes have increased 254 percent with no relief in sight. Where is the truth-in-taxation law and the protections it is supposed to afford "Shirley"?
What has happened to "Shirley" where this has happened before in Ketchum, Jackson or Park City? "Shirley" had to sell in order to survive. The oppressive taxation heaped upon our town and our valley will change the demographics of where we live, make no mistake about that.

And if you don't care, read no further. If we truly love our neighbors (a commandment) and our community, we will stand up -- not wither away like "Stepford" citizens.

And as a non primary resident, you, too, should have major concerns about your own properties being taxed at 100 percent. You should be first in line chipping in financial legal support.

So what to do?

* Pay the buck for lawn signs saying "For sale -- can't afford the taxes."

* Secondly, make a banner, "Huntsville town for sale $2,967,345,098.78 (Weber County Assessor's market value)."

* Third, organize a media day. Invite TV and newspaper editors/reporters, and treat them to some home cooking (potluck) in the park.

* Conduct tours in groups of five, along set routes, with hosts pointing out the irregularities and grossly inflated property values, errors made by the assessors.

* And finally, and most importantly, I want you all to very seriously consider this. We are, in fact, being doubly taxed by having to pay both for town and county services: for police protection, animal control, road surfacing and maintenance, snow removal, park upgrades and maintenance, etc.

Tell the commissioners in no certain terms that we are willing to sacrifice our local government just as it was done in the early 1900s.

We are willing to place the infrastructure and maintenance burdens of our small municipality (hundreds of thousands of dollars) squarely upon the county.
It will send a message that we care about our community.

We care more about our own people who comprise our community than we do about finely paved streets or immediately plowed snow.

Bell is retired from the U.S. Air Force, where he was a fighter pilot and test pilot for 20 years. He also retired by Lockheed-Martin after 10 years as a chief of F-16 engineering at Hill Air Force Base.

Huge tax increases should be unlawful
Tuesday, September 18, 2007

I'm a 90-year-old widow, in a wheelchair, with multiple health problems: rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and an artificial hip replacement. Forty years ago my husband and I bought a small parcel of land on the Pleasant View bench.

This land has no water, sewer or electricity available. We called it our little ranchette. It was our dream retirement home setting.

I have paid my taxes on this land all these years with no services provided and without complaint.

However, this year I was shocked to find my taxes had raised from $2,400 to $6,835.96 on this piece of land. My 40-year-old home is being taxed $1,731.

I am a widow and live on a fixed-retirement income. A tax increase of this magnitude should be unlawful in the state of Utah as it is in other states like Michigan where the greatest increase in any year is 5 percent of the previous year.

What is the problem with our elected officials? Is it time we vote them all out of office? Where are my elected officials when I need them?

Hazel A.G. GunnarsonPleasant View

Ogden Valley
Huntsville homeowners boil as property taxes soar
By Kristen Moulton The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated: 09/17/2007 07:08:03 AM MDT

Home construction is booming in Ogden Valley. Residents are... (Leah Hogsten/The Salt Lake Tribune)

Greeting friends and neighbors,

I'm busting my hump as they say to get and keep all our tax abuse in the forefront. But I am having a bit of a problem and maybe it is self induced. We went to this blog foremat in order save time. The idea is that you respond by clicking at the bottom of the "missive" or commentary and either anonamously or using some made up name let me and all others on the blog know what you think is right or wrong about what I think or say. Simultaneously we all get the word and have an open and free discussion using this blog site. So far only one or two have commented. Which leaves me to think either no one cares or no one is interested enough to make a comment.

Are you not comfortable using this blog format?

Huntsville resident D. Bell has a grand, if tongue-in-cheek, idea for calling attention to the plight of Ogden Valley residents whose property taxes doubled - and even tripled - this year. He proposes that Huntsville Town put itself up for sale: lock, stock and tractor shed. "We need to have a nice sign or banner made, on which it says, 'Huntsville Town for Sale $2,967,345,098.78 (Weber County Assessor's Market Value),' "Bell said in a recent Town Council meeting.

Bell, a retired fighter pilot and test pilot who moved to Huntsville in 1990, says the town needs some kind of stunt - he pulled the price tag out of the air - to get the attention of the Weber County Commission. So far, he and other residents in the bucolic valley 10 miles east of Ogden have been given empathy - but no promise of reduced taxes.

They've circulated petitions, drawing more than 660 online signatures alone from valley residents. They've solicited horror stories on an Internet blog, talked about the "Pineview Tea Party" - a reference to the pre-Revolution Boston Tea Party - and called for a Utah-style Proposition 13, that 1978 California measure that capped property taxes.

They've even hired an attorney to look into whether Weber County broke any laws. Now, Town Councilman Richard Sorensen has ordered 1,000 signs that residents intend to post on their lawns declaring their property "For Sale. Can't afford the taxes."

"This is all we talk about up here," says Bell. "People are really stirred up." The pain, says Weber Commissioner Craig Dearden, is real and it's understandable. But that doesn't mean the commission can do anything about it, he said. Dearden notes that state law dictates the way properties are valued, and Ogden Valley has been one of Utah's hottest real-estate markets ever since the 2002 Winter Olympics brought the world to nearby Snowbasin Ski Resort. Property values are soaring, forcing property taxes through the roof. Weber County has no surplus in its budget, as did Davis County, where commissioners are using the unexpected growth in taxes from new construction to give rebates to beleaguered taxpayers, Dearden said.
Moreover, Weber County has spent nearly 10 months of the 12-month budget already, so it would be tough to cut costs at this point, he said. Instead, the commission is working with northern Utah lawmakers to push for legislation to prevent similar skyrocketing property taxes in the future, he said.

Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, says he hopes to propose several pieces of legislation, including bills to raise family income thresholds for those seeking abatements or circuit-breaker cuts in property taxes. He also hopes to introduce legislation that would allow seniors to postpone paying higher taxes until their property sells.

Froerer, whose own property value and taxes doubled this year, says he has spent hours with county, school district and state Tax Commission officials, and is convinced a tax rebate cannot be done without creating a crisis next year. Nonetheless, he says, he empathizes with the tax revolters. "I feel their pain because I'm in the same boat."

Bell, who got a standing ovation at a community meeting when he suggested the county assessor's staff be given drug tests because of the "outrageous" values, says he has found dozens of errors in assessments while poring over property-tax records. His home, which has a 140-square-foot unfinished fruit room, is valued on the basis of a 1,300-square-foot finished basement, he said. "It's just not fair what they've done. They hired some temps off the street to collect data. Whatever they did, they did it so badly, I think it's unconstitutional." He cites the example of one Huntsville widow in her mid-80s who lives in a 1908 cottage. Her home was assessed at $109,666 in 2006, up 63 percent from the year before. This year, it was valued at $238,851 and her taxes went up 92 percent.

Doug Larsen, Weber County's chief deputy assessor, says it's not true that his office hired temps to set values. The higher values reflect the most up-to-date real-estate data in the valley, he said. But he acknowledged some mistakes may have crept in. "You're always going to have some errors," said Larsen. "Our goal is to value properties correctly."

Town Councilman Sorensen, an airline pilot, says that while he's able to afford the tax hike (his went from $1,528 last year to $2,795 this year), the valley is filled with elderly residents on fixed incomes who may be forced to sell. "They are being priced out of their homes," he said. Sorensen doesn't hold much hope in the Legislature fixing the problems. "We need to do a statewide initiative. We'll need a grass-roots citizens effort." kmoulton@sltrib.com

Deflating your rising property values
Are they worth contesting? 70% of residents who do so get their valuations lowered
By Jeremiah Stettler The Salt Lake Tribune

James Gander sits in front of his home. (Rick Egan/The Salt Lake Tribune)

Year after year, James Gander must defend his home - not from crooks, not from termites, but from rising property values. They sneak upward, sometimes with brazen bounces, vaulting his home's value and inflating his taxes.

But Gander, an economist by profession, is among 2 percent of Salt Lake County residents who push back against ballooning property values they deem unrealistic. Gander challenged his 2007 assessment. He did it last year, too, and the year before that. And, like thousands of homeowners, Gander has found the battle worth waging. He has reduced his property values and his tax bill. In fact, more than two-thirds of those who challenge their valuations prevail, according to county records from 2000 to 2006.

The fight is a matter of principle for Gander, who insists the county assessor appraises his east Salt Lake City home artificially high. Take his latest property assessment. Gander riffles through a manila folder and pulls out a county notice showing a 28 percent jump in his home value to $527,000 since last year. He shakes his head. The actual value, Gander argues, is no higher than $445,000 - an 8 percent bump over 2006, which he believes also was high.

Gander doesn't buy the county's assessment. Neither would a house hunter, he suspects. Sticker shock still lingers in Salt Lake County, where property owners saw their values spike to historic highs this summer.

Instead of the single-digit increases seen in years past, this year's hikes averaged 23.3 percent. Sellers cheered. Buyers booed. And homeowners gulped as some swallowed higher taxes.

Property owners have until the end of business Monday to lobby for lower valuations - an option that Salt Lake County Assistant Tax Administrator Liz Fehrmann suspects 6,500 to 7,000 people will take. If she's right, the county will see at least 20 percent more appeals than last year. That tally will roughly equal the average number of challenges heard each year since 2000. Most of those appeals will end, to some degree, in residents' favor.

The Salt Lake County Tax Administration reports that seven out of 10 appellants have succeeded in lowering their property values over the past seven years. Those owners - residential, commercial and industrial combined - reaped an average reduction of $59,000 in their assessments over that same period. County officials had no specific data on how those adjustments affected appellants' property taxes.

The changes - which have cost the county $1.8 billion since 2000 - amounted to less than 1 percent of the county's total taxable value. While home values undoubtedly springboarded this summer, County Assessor Lee Gardner insists it wasn't his doing. The values merely reflect "what people are buying and selling," he said. And typically they do, according to real estate observers and the business-backed Utah Taxpayers Association. Jim Bringhurst, a Salt Lake County Realtor and president of the Utah Association of Realtors, said the county's assessments generally jibe with the market value.

Trouble is, the assessor doesn't appraise every house - a feat that officials say would prove impractical in the state's most populous county (nearly 1 million people). At last count, the assessor had to gauge the value of more than 331,000 parcels. So the county relies on averages - based on the latest property sales. And that, BringÂhurst said, inevitably leads to mistakes. "They are coming as close as they can," he said. "But whenever you start dealing with averages, it is going to be inaccurate."

So are some homes overpriced? You bet, Bringhurst said. But some are underpriced, too. What matters, he said, is that property owners can take their beef to the county. And usually win. Antoni Szubtarski hopes to find himself in that winning bloc - which has ranged from a high of 79.5 percent of appellants in 2002 to a low of 55.6 percent last year, when rising market values made it difficult for property owners to prove an overplump assessment. Szubtarski's apartment complex in downtown Salt Lake City jumped to $840,000 this year. That's a $300,000 increase that the owner finds staggering. "As everybody else," he said, "I try to avoid paying big tax."

Szubtarski fears that this summer's soaring values - and the subsequent leap in his taxes - could threaten his business. He may have to raise rents, making him less competitive in the housing market. But the apartment owner smiled Tuesday as he exited the Salt Lake County Government Center, having just filed an appeal. He believed he made a strong case. "I think I will have success," he said.

While Szubtarski's taxes rose with his property values, the two aren't necessarily connected. Some residents saw a bump in valuation and a dip in taxes, according to the Assessor's Office. The reason: Because of the state's Truth in Taxation laws - which limit the amount governments can collect on existing properties without seeking a tax hike - homeowners will see their bills bounce only if their properties appreciate in value faster than the countywide average.
"In a perfect world, nobody gets a tax increase," said Howard Stephenson, president of the Utah Taxpayers Association and a state senator from Draper, "because we have ensured that governments don't get a windfall." Stephenson said the system appears to "work well," as evidenced by only 2 percent of property owners challenging their assessments. The implication, he said, is that most people believe their values match the marketplace. Naturally, the county assessor agrees - with good reason.

When Gardner took office in the mid-1990s, his office received close to 14,000 appeals - a tally representing about 5.5 percent of the county's total parcels. Those numbers plunged to about 5,400 appeals last year, or 1.7 percent of the total. That's not too shabby, Gardner says. "If you took an exam and got 98 percent," he said, "you would feel good about it." As for the appeals? They're probably warranted, Gardner said. With hundreds of thousands of parcels in Salt Lake County, he said, assessments are bound to be off in some places. "I would suspect a majority of the people who appeal really have a need for an adjustment."

But Gander faults the county's valuations generally, saying the formula for determining the figures - which he has dissected as an economist - exaggerates the market price. He first challenged his home value in 1996, and won. Gander has since appealed his assessments a half-dozen times. He won twice. He lost twice. And two of his appeals - this year and last - remain unresolved. So what of his winnings? Gander's latest victory in 2005 ended in a $150 tax refund. He chuckled, adding that he spent nearly 40 hours on the appeal. But the money isn't Gander's main motive, at least in the short term. The economist really wants change, perhaps from the Legislature, to keep rising assessments in check. "Even if I only got $50 back," he said. "It wouldn't matter."

Truth is, Gander still gets some pleasure from the process. He can't disguise it - not as he speculates openly about winning strategies for this year's appeal. Play it simple at first, he said, then introduce the complexities later. "You have to have some enjoyment out of it," Gander said, "or you're never going to do it." jstettler@sltrib.com

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We love what you are doing. Thanks for working for us.