Sunday, September 30, 2007

Plea for involvement. Article explains a lot about how we are governed.

UPDATE 10/1/2007 From this morning's Deseret News, Two Pilots Plot a Revolt Over Property Taxes

Greetings Friends and Neighbors,

It is with some sadness I must report the following:

"Today, believes author Charles S. Peterson, Utahans have proved to be followers rather than leaders on most public issues, seeking the sure precedent and the safe path ---a legacy of the Saints' old quest for security and respect in a hostile world." Utah, A History. by Charles S. Peterson.

If after reading this you don't feel just a little sick to your stomach, you need to reexamine your role as a citizen for the sake of all our family's futures. It seems we are being truly ruled by "special interest group money". We want campaign finance reform. We want ethics reform. We want comprehensive property tax reform. Some of us want parents to be in charge of their kids education. But it seems the legislature and/or special interest groups do not want us to have any of it.

So what do we do about it? Apathetically stand by while these commissioners and legislators and their special interest groups run our State for us? Who is in charge? Anybody care? Or is Professor Peterson correct with his belief?

I did like the bottom line of the Deseret Morning News column though. It offers some hope: "When citizens get involved in a campaign or an issue, they are always more powerful than a special interest." He added, "But that is true only if they are engaged. If not then special interests are always there to fill in the power vacuum."

Let's get engaged. Town or Valley, put a "For Sale ---Can't Afford the Taxes" sign out front. If you live in Huntsville Town (or not), call Mayor Jim McKay (801-745-3027) and tell him you would like him to actively support any and all efforts to pressure the local government officials to lower our property assessments for a change. Call Councilman Stevenson 745-2345, Gault 745-2601, and Truett 745-1280 and tell them you would like them to support all efforts to defend Huntsville Town and Ogden Valley's citizens against out of control Weber County Commissioners and the Assessor. Ask them to pass a resolution of support for Councilman Sorensen and D-Bell.

Ask Jim McKay to lead, as the Mayor of Huntsville, and reject the latest incremental 1/4% increase in sales tax, and any other tax without an end date. Tell him you want him to give a speech to the WCOG members objecting formally to a Weber County 26% increase in budget in defiance of State "Truth in Taxation" law by not holding public hearings. Tell him, if you are a resident of Huntsville Town, that you object to being doubly taxed for services you already are paying for and you want it stopped and now.

Valley residents, I just do not know what to suggest other than write letters (or make calls) to our legislators and to the Valley News, Standard Examiner, Salt Lake Tribune, and Deseret Morning News telling them how you feel about what has been allowed to happen by apparently the State Tax Commission, which has "oversight" over the Weber County Commissioners and the Assessor.

Tell them you want comprehensive tax reform and not poorly thought out Band Aids. Promise they will not be re elected if they do not begin to represent the people who put them in office instead of these special interest groups. Just do it! Do something to object to paternalistic cronyism and sickening ethically challenged representation.

Or maybe not...maybe just sit back and take it, like the last several years, hoping someone else will somehow get it done without you "sticking your neck out". But "behold the turtle who proceeds not lest his neck be stuck out." He is generally found squished on the highway, flat as a pancake, with his head still inside the shell.

Councilman and Wing man Sorensen and I can raise cane all day long but unless you get involved and "engaged" we can do very little for you. Support this effort by calling the Town Council members...all of them. Then actually do something. Act. Write letters, make phone calls. Did you know we don't even have so much as a resolution of support from the Huntsville Town Council? Where is the leadership? Where is the involvement or engagement in the welfare of virtually every citizen of Huntsille Town and Ogden Valley?

Or, wait until you are taxed out of this Valley and away from your rightful heritage and birthright. It is your choice not mine. Get engaged, I ask you.... please. I want you all as friends and neighbors forever.

Minor Machman

LEARNING CURVE: Percentage of Utah legislators receiving perfect scores from the Utah Association of Realtors
1999: 6%
2000: 8%
2001: 24%
2002: 31%
2003: 56%
2004: 53%
2005: 60%
Source: Utah Association of Realtors

Beholden to special interests?
Utah campaign funding 'unhealthy'
Deseret Morning News
By Lee Davidson and Bob Bernick Jr.
Deseret Morning News
Published: December 3, 2006

For every $100 in donations raised by incoming Utah legislators in their latest races, $95.70 of it came from special interests or members' own pockets.

In fact, 30 of the 104 legislators who will take office next month raised every cent of their campaign money from special interests or their own pockets. That's a 50 percent increase over the 19 lawmakers who were "100 percenters" two years ago, according to a computer-aided study by the Deseret Morning News. And most of that increase comes in donations from political action committees, businesses and individuals outside of lawmakers' districts.

As special-interest cash increases, political experts say it raises concerns about whether lawmakers are more beholden to the voters who elect them or the special interests that pay for campaigns.

Utah's campaign finance system "is not healthy," here to read the rest of this compelling article

Friday, September 28, 2007

More Property Taxes for Local Health Departments?

Greetings Friends and Neighbors,

This post is from Wing man Ron Mortensen and includes reference news articles which back his commentary.

In case you didn't see the news reports, now local health departments are requesting that state legislators require counties to raise property taxes so health departments will have a stable source of revenue. (See articles below)

Senator Ross Romero (D-Salt Lake) must not have heard about a "tax revolt" since, according to press reports, he appears to be more than willing to raise taxes. In fact, according to the Standard Examiner, he indicated that it might make sense to have the stability of a property tax increase for health departments as opposed to raising the sales and income taxes because they are not stable.

As usual, there is no consideration given to better using the taxpayer funds already collected by state and local governments. If health departments are indeed a critical priority, wouldn't it make sense to transfer funds from lower priority items to this critical area rather than raising property taxes?

Furthermore, there was apparently no discussion of why these folks are talking about tax increases when the state of Utah ended the current fiscal year at the end of June with a $242 million taxpayer funded surplus and when state agencies and public universities are holding and additional $200 million in taxpayer funded surpluses. (See articles below)

Finally, the article also shows the total detachment that civil servants have from reality. You'd think at a time when a property tax revolt was brewing and when governments had huge taxpayer funded surpluses that they would keep their heads down but here they are asking for property tax increases so they will have a stable source of funding.

It just goes to show, that for politicians, including school boards, civil servants, tax experts and special interests, we home and business owners are perceived to be little more than a stable source of revenue. And you thought you owned your home.

It boggles the mind!

Note: Politicians, including school boards, special interests and tax experts love the property tax because it is much more stable over time than the income and sales taxes are. Politicians, including school boards, set the property tax on our homes and businesses at the level they determine and we have to pay whatever they demand regardless of our ability to pay. If our income goes down due to a period of unemployment or due to retirement, the property taxes we owe remain stable and they get their full amount no matter what. On the other hand, the income taxes we pay will decline as our income goes down and we will likely pay less in sales taxes because we have less to spend. So, the bottom line is that those relying on our taxes much prefer making us rent our homes back from them at the rates they set rather than relying on the more volatile income and sales taxes that they have less control over.

Ron Mortensen, Citizens for tax fairness and Wing man

The following articles are for reference:----------------------------------------------------

" Tax Hike For Health?
Officials in Utah say infrastructure faltering”
Standard-Examiner staff


"Local health agencies say they need - The Associated Press
Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated:09/27/2007 10:34:21 AM MDT
Posted: 10:36 AM- OGDEN -


"Utah's $242M surplus not quite as hefty as last year
By Bob Bernick Jr. and Wendy Leonard
Deseret Morning News
Published: September 20, 2007
Deseret Morning News


$200 Million Surplus Criticized
Lawmakers wonder why Colleges, others haven't spent funds
Published September 19, 2007

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Neighborly conundrum

"Any puzzling question or problem."

By chance I happened on a neighbor (all of us are neighbors) who not only had his property grossly over assessed to almost a half million dollars, there were other troubling circumstances.

No longer physically able to drive they had recently opted for a mail box out front instead of the Post Office box. The Postmaster of course failed to deliver their Tax Notice returning it three (3) times. Returned because the County had a wrong P.O. Bx address. They never received the "shocking tax notice" until 14 September, too late to recover from the tax increase shock nor time to think of how to appeal. They were confused and upset but did not know what to do. The final date for an appeal had passed so they thought they were just out of luck and would have to sacrifice over the winter months. This could be literally life threatening.

After the trip downtown with the spouse and handicapped son, I learned a late appeal was possible. The pictures I took of the place proved very helpful with the assistant assessor in a private sit-down meeting. He was touched and promised to personally see that the late appeal was approved. I then filed for the "Circuit Breaker" as the family of three survived on less than $20,000 gross income a year. The "Circuit Breaker" provides for up to $800 off property taxes when qualified. Only last year's IRS 1040 is required as proof.

Now here is the "conundrum". How many similar situations are there out there? It haunts me and should all of us "Wing men and ladies". I can not go door-to-door asking "So how much are you living on?" I would likely have the door slammed in my face as they said "None of your ___$%#@&^* business". Still it is troubling.

The only thing I can come up with is this. If you think there might be a situation where your neighbor is 65 or older, (or a widow or widower of any age) and struggling to make ends meet. If you know your neighbor well enough to simply knock at the door and in a tactful conversation ask if they have appealed their property tax notification. And then find a way to bring up the Circuit Breaker provision which says, "You qualify, if you are age 65 or older or a widow or widower of any age and your total household income for 2006 was less than $26,941."

Then simply call me (801-745-1419) and I will take them downtown and do their paperwork for them. I am haunted by the prospects that there are more out there who will be unable to pay for heat, food, or medications in order to pay these gross over assessed property taxes.

If you can help out please take the extra step to check on your neighbor if you think the above situation may be applicable.



Tuesday, September 25, 2007

"Is Truth in Taxation a lie? LTE submission

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

So much is happening so fast. Senator Neiderhauser is calling for a public approval vote before any tax increases. Sounds good, except if taxing entities interpret it as a tax rate increase or Certified Tax Rate or as some call it "the mil levy" increasing, the Commissioners will just do like they have begun to do to get around TNT or State law and jack up assessments without raising the rate incuring Public TNT hearings or tax increase elections. So although perhaps well meaning, it just shows a lack of understanding of the current situation by some in the legislature unless the Tribune Article left out some information.

"To keep clear of concealment, to keep clear of the need of concealment, to do nothing that he might not do out on the middle of Boston Common at noonday-I cannot say how more and more that seems to me to be the glory of a (young) man's life. It is an awful hour when the first necessity of hiding anything comes. The whole life is different thenceforth. When there are questions to be feared and eyes to be avoided and subjects that must not be touched, then the bloom of life is gone. Put off that day as long as possible. Put it off forever if you can." Phillips Brooks

Is "Truth in Taxation" a lie?

"Because "Truth in Taxation" is revenue-based, a hearing may still be required if an entity's tax rate remains unchanged or even declines. For example, if property values increase 10 percent as the result of reappraisal, but a taxing entity does not lower its rate proportionately, it must advertise and hold a "Truth in Taxation" hearing. The (TNT) hearing is required because the increase in value is not considered new growth.

Many taxing entities continue to be confused by this concept and attempt to compare the previous year's tax rate with the current year's proposed rate to determine if a tax increase will occur. Under a revenue-driven system, changes in rates are irrelevant." Quotation taken from "Utah Property Tax"

Question to Weber County Commissioners, "Did you hold Truth in Taxation meetings?
Commissioner Zogmaister, "We didn't have to. We didn't raise taxes (or tax rate)."

The Weber County Budget increased from 100 million to 126 million. That is a 26% increase.

The Davis County Assessor recently admitted Bountiful had not been reassessed for ten (10) years. Yet State "Truth in Taxation" law requires all properties be reassessed at least once every five years and the State Constitution seems to suggest an annual assessment.

The Utah State Tax Commission has legal jurisdiction and oversight responsibility over all taxing entities. Yet the law is not seemingly being enforced, hence we are being run over by record setting disparate taxation for the past three years, without any legal protections.

Our only public explanation is, "Oh, well...the Perfect Storm, Utah has seen record increases in real estate values." Truth is we have seen insular successes of the Real Estate Association (there are 10,000 members in Utah) lobby efforts which protect 6% commissions from every possibility of legislative relief. The status quo automatically increases multiple listing services (MLS) based "comps" which include "curb enhancement" costs as part of "current market value" appraisals. And For Sale by Owner (FSBO) sales are not included in the MLS computations. If these FSBO sales were included they would also lower appraisals and ultimately assessments based on these false MLS values. Paying someone to sell my home does not add value to it. Neither does "lipstick and rouge" curb appeals designed to market my home add value to my home or any MLS listings used as "comps". But a neighbor with a similar home which he or she sells themselves for less certainly does.

It is time for "acquisition value" based taxation since "Truth in Taxation" is neither followed nor enforced. Truth in Taxation law is in effect a lie about taxation. The Tax Commission is either under-staffed, over-worked, hobbled by other legislation or successful lobby efforts, and therefore is a "toothless watch dog". Put simply, if our current law is too hard to understand, too difficult to administer and impossible to enforce it is bad or outdated law. It needs replacing with a simple, fair and equitable "acquisition value" tax code already in place for decades in the majority of States. Act now legislature, before it is too late.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Debunking today's LTE at Std Ex. & Acquisition Value...explanation/discussion

Letter to the editor, Standard Examiner.

I'm writing in response to the Aug. 28 guest commentary, "Politicians -- do something!" by Richard Evans. Mr. Evans stated "Talking with our state legislator Sen. Allen Christensen was very enlightening. He told me the real estate lobbyists have so much money and power that if he does anything to reduce our property taxes he could lose his job."

This statement is completely inaccurate. First, I personally spoke to Sen. Christensen and he informed me that Mr. Evans' comments didn't accurately reflect what he said.

Second, and even more importantly, such a statement shows that the author is totally uninformed as to the actual position of Realtors regarding property taxes. Realtors oppose any irresponsible or unfairly assessed property tax. For decades, individual Realtors have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars out of their own pockets to fight for lower property taxes. We have also battled to maintain the current 45 percent residential property tax exemption.

Realtors helped champion the creation of Truth in Taxation and have continually and dogmatically opposed laws that would result in an increased property tax. Moreover, Realtors regularly testify in front of county commissions and city councils to argue against inappropriate increases to any tax or fee that affects homeowners.

It is the mission of Realtors to defend private property rights and to help assure the availability of affordable housing by preventing increased property taxes wherever possible.

Michael J. Ostermiller

Machman’s commentary,

The first part was simply "attack the messenger because you don't like the message." Both the Senator and Mr. Evans were and are "spot on!".

As for the remainder of Mr. Ostermiller's now trite and overused public statement...

This is the 3rd time I have heard these exact words. They were spoken by our local Rep. Gage Froerer, now by Mr. Ostermiller and also by one of the top lobbyists during a statement before the revenue and taxation committee on 19 Sept. It seems to be a prepared political statement written by the people who are in fact behind the bogus “current market value” scheme and frankly are part of the problem. That is unless they have a "revelation" or something which changes their collective mindsets. They wittingly or unwittingly hold to all that is wrong with our current property taxation system, which is “the disease”.

And there is an element of truth to Mr. Ostermiller’s and that particular real estate lobby effort’s canned statement. Lower property taxes do in fact encourage more real estate turnover and thus commissions. It is almost ironic that he or they would seem in opposition to a proposal which will in fact stabilize and lower property taxes. Thus encouraging more opportunity for more people to actually be able to afford to buy homes or upgrade. Their position is oxymoronic. And "acquisition value" taxation is not regressive, nor does it unfairly tax second homes which also is a positive for the real estate industry. It is entirely possible that the apparent opposition can be made to realize this. And many other advantages of “acquisition value” based property taxation when their group assembles every two weeks to analyze the pros and cons of any specific legislation as to how it affects the Realty Association membership and protects commissions.

While there are truly honest and worthy people of character in the real estate business/association, there are a few forces in Salt Lake City which effectively manipulate these good people and all of us in the process. This is a canned public statement. Propaganda is one of their “tools” they use. They have and can spend millions when we have only this medium and a few hundred dollars. But what of the positive advantages for “acquisition value”? Is this merely resistance to change? Or ignorance on their part or mine? Can these zealously protective of their commissions association members be convinced that "acquisition value" taxation is actually beneficial to their cause...lowered property taxes, housing costs and increased real estate activity? We can try. You can try. We all must try.

They rather obviously also “helped” put together “informational handouts” for the Legislature’s Revenue and Taxation Committee and distributed them to attendees. It is almost all pure propaganda based upon 1997 information and antiqued Truth in Taxation theory which is neither followed nor enforced by local governments or the State Tax Commission. Note, Davis County Assessor admitting it had not reassessed Bountiful for (10) ten years. That would mean they not only broke the law for ten years, they were not over-seen or regulated by the State Tax Commission for ten years. And that is a simple more speculation or guessing. The Counties are rampaging totally out of control and without regard to anything written clearly as State "Truth in Taxation" Law.

The “propaganda” portion of the information cites 2005 statistics and “Legisbrief” (from National Conference of State Legislatures) information also from 2005. It isolates us all from the information and realities of the 36 States which have changed over to an acquisition value based taxation system.

Think of the good they (this real estate association lobby group) could actually do for themselves, their image and all of us. Perhaps you honest brokers in real estate need to mobilize and confront this group in Salt Lake City (and Layton? Call Mr. Ostermiller) I think of all the good people I know in real estate. And think they would all like to be on the honest side of political influences and lobby efforts representing them.

The propaganda package also contains two memos from Michael E. Christensen, Director of the Office of Legislative Research & General Counsel which suggests how legislators might what to mitigate our concerns over the statewide property tax explosion.

For example, it shows last year (2006) 35 municipalities, 4 counties, 25 “special districts”, 17 School Districts or a total of 81 taxing agencies proposed increasing a property tax rate which exceeded its certified tax rate. When all was said and done 77 of the 81 taxing agencies increased our property taxes.

This year 69 taxing entities are raising our tax rates higher than an already far too high tax rate. Hmmm…. Wonder what will happen this year? I think we all know by now.

Lots of talk about payola schemes and Band Aids for special interest groups like us “senior citizens” to tamp down the outrage. Direct threats from legislator’s to assessors to put pressure on Boards of Equalization to approve appeals etc. All designed to placate, yet none to address the “disease”.

But what about the working poor or “middle class”? You who can neither retire or take time off to object or get involved, appeal property “Market Values”, or attend any meetings because you are working and moonlighting yourselves to death. You are the “silent majority” and the ones out there doing the real work of keeping home and family and community together by working more hours, more jobs, and part time weekend and evening “moon lighting”.

Most of our representatives and senators still are not getting it (at least 22 as a minimum). It is an across the economic and demographic spectrum - broad all encompassing problem. And it is caused by “the disease” which has infected everyone in this State. Not just “Shirley” or seniors, or our beloved Valley, or my Town.

And finally it shows when all the complicated mumbo jumbo and statistical manipulation, rationalization, intellectual compartmentalization, and just plain excuses are done; the bottom line is “The effective Property Tax Rate” for Utah was just under one percent (.95) in 2005. That is an average for the past 12 years.

But a closer look shows the tax rate average is only for “Primary Residential” (post realtor association supported 45 % rate reduction legislation, giving credit where credit is due). It does not include all residential properties which are well over 1% tax rate Statewide. In fact Weber County average Property Tax Rate is the highest in the State at 1.5% for 2006. And our intrepid Commissioners and assessor promises to set yet another record this year. Add to that the outrageous disparate property assessments and all of us (not just Huntsville Town or the Ogden Valley) but the entire County are being bilked out of far too much in taxes. And the long list of “Other taxing agencies”, especially the School Districts are reaping windfalls while at the same time actually increasing tax rates even more! (re the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District…just because they can). They are aiding and abetting this tax rape.

So what makes Weber County so super special? Weber School District so special? Why do the Commissioners raise the budget from $100 Million to $126 Million in a single year? They would not tell us – so much for “Truth in Taxation”?

Assessor Madson is paying a whopping $163 more property tax than last year. How does that make you feel?

So D-Bell, what the %$#@*&^(!! Is this “Acquisition Value” based taxation system? How are we going to put a stop to this out of control oppressive nonsense. How are we going to solve this County and State-wide problem? Here is what I think.

Solution, yes, get rid of all those at the local level (including School District Board members) who are responsible ultimately, just as soon as their terms expire. But that takes time. Time for even more irresponsible damage to be done to us all. We need to pass legislation which enables recall petitions for malfeasance in office.

We need to put all local governments (Counties) and School Districts on a diet. Demand comprehensive tax reform which effectively does just that by limiting their ability to gorge on our bank accounts. Separate School Districts, Weber Basin Water Conservancy Districts, Mosquito Control, Fire Protection Districts, etc. from County Tax collections. Put them on their own diets, accountable to their own constituency, through local Bond issues. Make them publicly explain budgets which are reasoned and rational.

For our property tax situations, if an “acquisition value” taxation system is put in place, 100% of all property would be taxed every year. But assessed value could only increase 2 or 2.5% per year (Oregon uses 2.5 %, Michigan 5%, it varies by State). And the tax rate would be only 1% of the stable yearly value increase.

Examples always help understand:

I buy your house for $250,000. The Title Company at closing sends a Form 1099 (or whatever) to the State Tax Commission registering the new value of my new house. The “value” is automatically decreased by 6% for a Real Estate Commission (or the going rate actual at the time) or not if sold by owner, and curb appeal “lip stick and rouge” improvements to entice the sale (if any can be documented within the time the property is declared up for sale). Neither are true market value components of the actual house I bought from you.

So the Form 1099 says Sale Price $250,000, adjustments for Realty commissions(6% or whatever the going rate is at the time if applicable) $15,000, and curb appeal enhancements (if any) $25,000. Total corrections $40,000. True Acquisition Value: $210,000.

This amount ($210,000) is recorded as the true acquisition value and my property tax will be $2,100, if I bought your house on 1 January. It would be prorated down say by 50% if I purchased the house on 1 June, when it would halved and only $1050. The new baseline acquisition value, to which only 2.5% maximum (using Oregon’s system in our example) can be added the next year.

This (2.5%) is also the average of annual historical cost of living increases which most use when planning our budgets and it might well change over time at which time the maximum would also change. It could be tied to the Social Security cost of living index, inflation rate for Utah specifically, or some other recognized and verifiable index.

So next year what can I expect to pay in property taxes? $210,000 X 2.5% = $5,250, so the reassessed taxable value is now $215,250 and my taxes are now $2,153.

When I sell your old house and now my home, this process is reset using the new sales price or acquisition value.

And in order to stabilize communities and families our homes can be transferred to family members at the same steady and reliable market values. This means if I sell (or transfer) the ole homestead to say my daughter or one of the grand kids it will continue at the same tax rates as before and under the same rules. Two and one-half percent maximum increases in value annualy and one percent property tax rate on the same acquisition value.

-Notice that there are no primary or non primary Band Aids applied. No contentious 45% discount for primary residences. No cheating and no whimpers about “We just don’t have enough staff to police every parcel in our County.”
-Note also the hundreds of millions of dollars (our dollars) wasted on 29 County Assessor Offices would be significantly reduced if not completely eliminated. A PC or MAC can handle these simple calculations.
-Note remaining assessors could actually concentrate on Green Belt or FFA designated compliance issues, commercial and corporate tax issues and enforcement of tax law - for a change.
-We could budget and plan as we should be empowered to do via our Constitutional guarantees.
-No more violations of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
-Local Governments would have a very clear understanding of revenue and better plan and budget.
-Revenues would actually increase (except for the Draconian Weber County policies) in 28 of 29 Utah Counties since all property is taxed equally and fairly on the real or actual value of a property at the point of sale.
-Contentious and disruptive behavior would cease or at least minimized since the State Constitution would be amended to say annual fair and equitable of all property.
-There would be no shifts or unpredictably in areas where the hottest real estate activity is occurring.
-No more circuit breakers or caps or deferred taxation schemes tied to individual outside business interests. No more pandering to special interest groups.
-No more Conflicts of Interest or appearances of COI.
-Schools would benefit by virtue of stabilized communities where families with children can actually afford their homes and not be displaced by second home and vacation/recreational residences.

(please feel free to suggest and add others “pros and cons” using the comments button)

Cons: (as I reread these I can't help but see these as actually "pros"....)

-Initial shock effects to School Districts and other taxing agencies used to “sucking the public boob”.

-Counties have to live within a real budget for a change. Some services might have to be cut back. Perhaps reduced library hours, emergency vehicles might not send out three huge fire trucks for a simple stroke or medical emergency call, like a kid getting bruised at a football game, etc.

-The Pineview Res. boys at Karen’s CafĂ© everyday for breakfast until about nine or ten o’clock, might have to change their schedules, for example.

-Boutique taxes like RAMP Grants, Bond issues, Sales tax hikes, etc. would be seen in a clearer light as independent issues.

-School Districts already under assault by Charter School competition would have to produce more and cut nonsense class work like under water basket weaving, etc.

-Assessor offices and possibly others would see reduced staffing and commensurate lowered budget allocations.

-People would actually understand their property taxes. Defaults and non payments would very likely decrease. Collection expenses would drop.

-Two and three Sheriff Deputy Vehicles responding to a traffic stop might have to be cut to one.

-Prison expenses might have to be mitigated by the inmates having to actually work on infrastructure maintenance for example. And hundreds of other cost cutting measures might have to be instituted by local taxing agencies.

-Someone suggested using retiree volunteers for some County "services".

Now surely you can add to the lists! Just click on the comments and then use the anonymous feature or your own “handle”.

And on the positive front…

Hatch and Bishop introduce APPLE Act again
The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated: 09/21/2007 01:20:31 AM MDT

Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Rob Bishop are continuing their efforts on an education funding proposal linked to public lands. They introduced the APPLE Act for the second time in the House and the Senate on Thursday. The proposal would allow Utah and other Western states to take over 5 percent of the public land within their boundaries as long as that land is not in a national park or forest, a wilderness area or used for a military purpose. The money earned by selling or leasing that land would be invested in a fund in which the interest earned would go to education. "Utah should be commended for the resources it puts toward education, but our hands are tied as long as the feds have so much of our land locked up and off the tax rolls," said Bishop, a former high school history teacher. Scott Parker, Bishop's chief of staff, said he knows the bill is a long shot, but Bishop believes it is the right policy to help Utah schools. "He has said he will fight for this one until it becomes law or he dies, which ever comes first," Parker said. Bishop and Hatch argue that Utah routinely is at the bottom of the list in per pupil spending because education is funded by property taxes, which are hard to collect when 65 percent of the land is federally owned and therefore not taxable. - Matt Canham

Friday, September 21, 2007

Legal and three good news articles- Keep the pressure on.

Thanks Jack,

You are a gentleman and a scholar. I figured as much based upon many factors and just needed to hear it from you.

As you say the situation is not, as it turns out, limited to just Weber County and Ogden Valley and Huntsville. It is a State-wide problem and our fight has broadened significantly to identify those who are serving the best interests of powerful Real Estate/Developer lobby's instead of the people. And our mission is to demand change from the present taxation system into an "acquisition value" based taxation system with many other reforms needed.

Some legislators are coming out of the closet, ironically, virtually all self-identifying as proponents of relying on personal greed to make their day. They are the ones who are proposing raised Circuit Breaker legislation, caps on property taxes for those over 62 or 70 with deferred strings attache. And the latest outrageous idea concerns co-opting reverse mortgages. They are actually proposing the State government become a mortgage banker. Deferring taxes over some amount and earning 6% for the State until the old gal/boy passes on. And then reaping the unearned investment account of deferred taxes plus 6%, so that more real estate activity is generated (more commissions) and our children absolutely HAVE to sell in order to pay the taxes.

This and all "these" senior buyout measures are "Dead on Arrival", but serve to demonstrate to the people exactly who they have elected and why. These of course just pass along a bad system and all its inappropriate burdens on to the working people as if they are not already working hard and enough hours. This is an outrageous proposition and simply disgraceful.

You are correct that we have a large fight on our hands, but the battle grounds have shifted into the political arena and there we can all make a difference for our State's future, our children and grandchildren. Hope I can count on you as a "Wing man for Property Tax Reform" and wish you and your present consumer class action endeavors great success.

Thanks from all us in the Town and Valley,


Jack Helgesen wrote:
Mr. Bell...

We have discussed your case at some length among the seven attorneys in our law firm. Your case intrigues us, but we have decided to not accept the case.I have sensed your frustration with my timetable. You are a take-charge man of action and you have your own legal theories for the case. I have agreed with you on some and disagreed on others, but I believe you need a lawyer who will pursue the case your way. Any other way will just result in mutual frustration.My decision to decline the case comes with mixed feelings. I would love to challenge the current appraisals, and my sympathies are strong for your neighbors who can't pay these enormous increases. The frustration is widespread this year, and I think we could be successful.As you may know, I have built my legal reputation on large cases. I still like them. In the last three weeks my time has been consumed in writing and filing six legal memoranda in a class action case which will involve thousands of Utahns, and I have been unable to give other matters (including yours) much attention. My heart is with consumers, especially those who are victims of big business and calloused government. I love the Constitution.My cases are almost always on a contingent fee basis where I do not get paid unless I win. I like it best that way, but I have been unable to find a workable way to take your case on that basis. Asking several hundred people to pay into a war chest for legal fees in advance is a nice idea, but the logistics of that inevitably weakens the effort. Your proposal to raise a little more than twenty thousand dollars will not fund the kind of legal work you need. You can find lawyers who will work for that, and you may find a young brilliant lawyer who will suit your needs. More experienced lawyers will know what they are getting into. These cases involve much publicity and are consuming. They involve substantial time just on legal research, analysis and writing, but they go far beyond that into meeting with hundred of clients, fielding a deluge of phone calls and into political action. The best lawyers will refuse to take a case unless they can do their very best work and still pay their office expenses.You suggested we might take this case on a pro-bono (free) basis because of the opportunity to argue at the U. S. Supreme Court. First, this case is almost certain to end in the Utah Supreme Court and I have been there many times. If you file in federal court, the case will be much more complicated and will almost certainly end in the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. I have been there enough. Second, I do take pro-bono cases. For reasons I have already mentioned, this is not a case I will take on that basis.We wish you much success in bringing fairness to our tax system. I will not charge you for what work we have done to investigate the issues. You need to save that money for the fight ahead.Regards, Jack Helgesen -- Helgesen Waterfall & Jones Logo*Jack Helgesen*Helgesen Waterfall & Jones, PC849 W. Hill Field Road, Suite 202Layton, Utah 84041 Phone: (801) 544-5306Fax: (801) 546-2929

Utahns take property tax gripes to legislators
By Sheena McFarlandThe Salt Lake Tribune

Article Last Updated: 09/19/2007 09:06:08 PM MDT

Bert Hulet is tired of hearing about statistics and numbers and standard deviations when it comes to property taxes. For him, it's personal. His father lost everything in the Great Depression. He later recovered enough to buy a farm, but had to give it up in 1939 because he couldn't pay the property and water taxes. Now Hulet sees a similar threat hanging over his retired friends in Bountiful, where household property taxes increased more than 300 percent on the east side of the city. "This is sick, it's got to stop," he said. "I have neighbors who have been in that area 35 to 45 years, and they're going to lose their houses in the next couple of years trying to pay property taxes."

Hulet was one of nearly 30 Utah residents who testified Wednesday before the Legislature's Revenue and Taxation Interim Committee, many shouting about several-thousand dollar increases in property taxes in a single year.

Huntsville resident D-Bell brought a petition with 1,000 signatures of Ogden Valley residents decrying the assessed value increases of houses and land in the area. "We feel we're being destroyed by disparate taxation," he said. "We must act and we must act now. No pussyfooting around."

But legislators are still looking for a solution. Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem, said he heard unsatisfactory answers from county assessors in response to this year's "perfect storm" for raising taxes and the ire of property owners. He cited school districts that raised property taxes even after the largest increase in school funding in recent history and water districts increasing taxes to their highest limits for unidentified future projects. "We are hearing throughout the whole state concerns with property taxes," Valentine said. "There is not a good relationship between the ability for someone to pay their property taxes and how much property they own."

He has several possible solutions, from deferred payment to a tax rate cap to an averaging of several years of property rates to lessen what he calls the "sticker shock" of recent tax increases.

Committee Senate Chairman Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, sees problems clustering in Davis and Weber counties and other "problem spots" in the state. He would like to see a law requiring any tax hike greater than inflation go to a public vote. "We should let the people decide," he said.

But that doesn't help people this year who face a doubling or tripling of their taxes. And it doesn't ease the anger of those who see such jumps when neighbors across the street see only a small bump in property taxes.

"Enough is enough. If it isn't fair and equitable, it isn't constitutional," said David Piggott of Bountiful. Sen.

Curtis Bramble, R-Provo, sympathized with those in attendance. "The issue here is coming up with a better approach so citizens feel they are being treated fairly," Bramble said. "Everyone hates taxes . . . but if they're not distributed across the population, we all become somewhat rebellious."

Gordon Tyler of Centerville begged the committee to find a lasting solution. "It's up to you if you want to create a history for your kids or grandkids that Utah is [one of the] highest taxed states," Tyler said. "You can pass legislation that is a Band-Aid or legislation that is surgery."

Lawmakers Get an Earful of Property Tax Woes
Sep 20, 2007 by Julie Rose

(KCPW News) The good news is property values are up all over Utah. The bad news? Property taxes are going up too. Dozens of disgruntled homeowners shared their property tax woes yesterday at a public hearing on Capitol Hill.

"We build a small wood-frame cabin there in 1977 - it is 1700 square feet," says Alta resident Karen Travis. "I guess the assessors came up and decided to add one-million dollars to all of our values."

Travis will pay more than 10-thousand dollars in property taxes this year, compared to six-thousand last year. Many at the hearing yesterday were senior citizens on fixed incomes, struggling to pay taxes as their home values rise. Some seniors are eligible for tax assistance. But skyrocketing property values have pushed many others, like Keith Thomas, to the brink of disaster.

Thomas is 70 and still working, but when he finally does retire, he says it's unlikely he'll be able to keep his Cottonwood Heights home. He suggested that lawmakers freeze the value of a home at the 65th birthday of the oldest member of the household.

Property taxes are set and collected by cities and counties. State lawmakers only determine the framework by which those taxes are levied. But yesterday, legislators made it clear they are concerned about the increasing burden of property taxes in Utah and will look for ways to fix things from the top.

Thursday, September 20, 2007
Lawmakers may head off revolt over property taxes
Counties told to fix assessment woes or Legislature will step in
By Joseph M. DoughertyDeseret Morning News
Published: Sept. 20, 2007 12:07 a.m. MDT

If counties don't fix problems with property-tax assessments, some lawmakers are threatening that the state Legislature will do it for them.

Legislators are preparing bills for the 2008 session that will be designed to provide property-tax relief and change the way taxing entities can approve tax increases.

Property assessed by counties received valuations so high in 2007 that many residents wonder how they're going to stay in their homes, because they now must pay more in property taxes.

More than 100 people packed a public hearing Wednesday to talk about the issues before the Revenue and Taxation Interim Committee. About 20 residents from Wasatch Front counties shared property-tax woes and opinions for how to keep property taxes from getting out of control.

Bountiful resident David Piggott, 84, said his tax bill will go up $900 this year and suggested that school districts no longer tax all residents, just those who have children in school.
Karen Travis, of Alta, said her 1,700-square-foot cabin and land cost her $6,376 in taxes last year. This year, her bill is $10,508.
"I beseech you to rebate our taxes back to what we paid last year," Travis said. That would give lawmakers time to change the way taxes are levied, she added.

Committee co-chairman Sen. Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said he plans to introduce a bill that would require voter approval for any property-tax increases above the rate of inflation. And if no one sponsors a bill to correct appraisal problems, Niederhauser said, he will.
Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, plans to co-sponsor a bill that would create a tax deferral for senior citizens.

Meanwhile, residents of Huntsville, Weber County, have banded together to put their town up for a mock sale as a way of making government leaders take notice.
The yard signs are in, said Huntsville resident Don "D-Bell" Bell. The next step is to string a banner under the "Welcome to Huntsville" sign that says "For Sale: $2.9 billion."
That figure is the total assessed value of the town's homes and land this year, according to the Weber County Assessor's Office, Bell said. (with toungeu in cheek)

But the tongue-in-cheek approach indicates a real problem, he added, and people are packing up to get out of Huntsville, because property taxes will make it too expensive to live there for some residents.

D-Bell, who held a petition with names of 1,000 Ogden Valley residents, said the state needs to require that taxes be based on the price paid for property, not on Multiple Listing Service data that can be out of date.

Thirty-five other states have similar practices, D-Bell said.
And because counties would need to know what price someone paid for a home, Utah should become a disclosure state, meaning that when a home is sold, the purchase price is reported to the state or local government, Bell said.

Officials in Davis County, where property values jumped by 19.5 percent this year, are planning to assess the entire county in 2008, which would keep single areas, such as Bountiful, from seeing huge jumps in tax bills.

Bountiful had not been reappraised in about a decade, said Davis County Assessor James Ivie, and residents saw an average increase of 30.5 percent in property values because properties were finally brought up to market value this year.

Davis County has teamed up with the Davis School District, Weber Basin Water Conservancy District and Bountiful city to provide $5.7 million for a one-time tax discount or "equity abatement" to qualifying properties.

Davis County commissioners have also authorized rainy-day fund money to hire additional employees in the Assessor's Office to prepare for valuations in 2008.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

D-Bell's Speech before Utah Legislature's Revenue and Taxation Interim Committee 9-19-07 and more

"Val E.", and friends and neighbors,

"They need to throw out the baby and the bath water and the assessors". (D-Bell) referring to the dramatic changes in the State property tax laws.

I gave the following speech and was first out of the hopper. They allowed me extra time (more than two minutes) since I was representing "a thousand people" from our Valley (and NOT just Huntsville). Ground work with the legislative staff Ron Mortensen really paid off it seems. I'm leaving it large font since my eyes are tired and others might well be after all this hubbub...

Speech before Utah Legislature’s Revenue and Taxation Interim Committee

I have often heard, “We are a Republic, not a democracy so represent those who elected you by voting the way I want you to vote.” But the truth is “We are a constitutionally limited republic based upon democratic principles.” By hosting us citizens, this committee is in compliance with the best traditions of “democratic principles”. So I thank you distinguished Senators and Representatives of this committee on behalf of Ogden Valley and my Town, Huntsville.

John Marshall* said “The power to tax involves the power to destroy.” Before “Truth in Taxation” (1986) taxing agencies could only raise property taxes no more than 6% over the previous year revenues. Ladies and gentlemen that actually sounds pretty good when I read about Utah, Salt Lake, and Davis counties seeing an average 22.6% property tax increase. And it looks really good from my Town and Valley’s perspective where we are seeing greater than 100% increases on average over last year. We feel we are being “destroyed” by disparate property taxation. I will let the petition and its comments and the silent crowds in the corridors gathered for support, speak for themselves about the hardships and agony it is causing my beloved Town and Valley. “Something is rotten in Denmark” and with the current realities of our “Truth in Taxation” laws particularly in Weber County - Ogden Valley and Huntsville Town.**

Instead of throwing rocks, today, I want to do what I can to help us solve problems. I would like you to consider these suggestions and if you are interested in further discussion, I will be pleased discuss these and many more with you.

We are reading many tax relief proposals about specific relief for “seniors”. A cap on property taxes for those over 70 or 62 years old. An increase in the “Circuit Breaker”, deferred taxes after the first $1,500 until we die, then our progeny must sell in order to pay the back taxes, etc. Ladies and gentlemen please recognize these for what they are. These are merely Band Aids for a symptom. Every sector of our great State is suffering; from young couples who can not afford the new housing costs to the AARP crowd hanging on with our fixed incomes. These Band Aids for special interests are merely buyout solutions at the expense of others – not worthy of even compassionate conservative values nor votes. We don’t want any of them. We want comprehensive property tax reform.

Our State is where California was in the late 70s, Arizona and Iowa in’79, New York in ’81, Florida and Michigan in ’94, South Carolina in ’95, Oregon and Oklahoma in 1996. Montana and Washington in ‘97 and others have joined the list since.***

We have a couple of choices the way I see it. We can overhaul worn down 22 year old (1985) “Truth in Taxation” and make it TNT on steroids. But TNT doggedly clings to the notion that “current market analysis” is “current and accurate” which we all know it is not. It is heavily based upon an inaccurate real estate marketing system (MLS) fraught with contentious assumptions and speculation. In short, it is “the disease”. We can and definitely should replace a “non current market speculation” and inflation on auto-pilot property taxation scheme with an “acquisition value” taxation system, like so many other States have done and are doing. We can and must inoculate or immunize ourselves against the “disease” and not legislate Band Aids for symptoms. For the “chicken-littles”, these States are not graveling for funding. They have found ways to trim the fat from state and local government set expenses, for example Assessor’s offices.

Paraphrasing Will Rogers,” The property tax has made more liars out of the American people than golf has. Even when you make a tax appeal form out on the level, you don’t know when it’s through, if you are a crook or a martyr.”

I suggest you put together a non-partisan “Blue Ribbon” citizen group to study the economic and legislative “lessons learned”; the pros and cons of “acquisition value” property based taxation. And this “Blue Ribbon” group provide a report which focuses on Utah’s unique demographics, its unique federal, state, and privately owned land situation*** with conclusions and recommendations. And the report be made public. Only informed constituents can make informed decisions.

Secondly, only one-eighth of our Country is designated BLM (multi use) land. Utah has 66% of our land managed by the Federal Government. I would like to humbly suggest that our Utah national congressional delegation form a coalition with Nevada, Arizona, Wyoming, Colorado, and California although lesser strapped for land they can surely feel our pain. Nevada has a very similar problem with Utah and it has a powerful political ally in Senator Harry Reid. Our situation, given a state birthrate twice that of Bangladesh, is a situation which can not continue if our grandchildren are to be allowed to live in this State. We need some our land back into the private sector. We need more political action on proposals like the Washington County Growth and Conservation Act and we need them where seventy-five percent of the population is centered along the Wasatch. Apple amendment or not, we need a “Utah Families Act”. And it should not be a boondoggle for developers, it should be a “boon” for Utah families.

We must demand our federal government “vacate” its claims on lands into the private sector, thus enabling our youth to have an affordable place to live. A “little piece of ground” on which to build now is pushing $100,000. Developers can not build even a starter home for less than $300,000. Our children earning $72,000 a year can not see their way to afford a home and start a family. Put 22% to 700% property tax increases in the blender and there is simply “no way”. Unless we collectively decide Utah should become a ski chalet and sand box for only wealthy non primary residents, we must act this session. It is already too late for many who are leaving after generations as Utahans. This is simply disgraceful.

I have at least ten other suggestions but my time is up. Again, I would be most happy to share my suggestions and ideas should you like to hear them at another time. I will go anywhere, talk to anyone, and do anything within the law to make positive changes which will allow our people (young, old, and in-between) to live in this State. And I do very much thank you each for this opportunity.

* Supreme Court Chief Justice. John Marshall was an American hero before he was Chief Justice. After service in the Continental Army, he helped ratify the Constitution and was a member of Congress; he was an internationally known diplomat and Secretary of State. Only then did he become the judge who balanced the three branches of government so that the Constitution not only survived, but grew stronger over the next 200 years.

Guess "I did good" because of applause and when I asked Representative Froerer if I embarrassed him he said "No. Not at all" with a smile. To the above speech at some point I added, I had at least 30 graduate hours of statistics. And it actually scares me a little bit that I actually understand all those statistics; like coefficient of variance and coefficient of dispersion the three assessors were taking a hour to talk about previously. And that I also know that statistics can be manipulated to suit just about any thing you want them to say. I was not impressed with a system almost too hard to even think about and which causes millions to be spent on unnecessary assessors' offices.

Representative John Dougall, was the House Chairman. And Senator Wayne Neiderhauser was the Senate Chairman. There were about twenty state congressmen/ladies sitting in a large "U" shaped arrangement of tables. We had to sit at a single table facing them. They asked that I give them a copy of my speech. I also delivered the petitions from BOTH the Ogden Valley and Huntsville to the House Chair (Rep. Dougall) personally stressing they all should read the comments and realize just how great the percentage who signed the petitions actually was for permanent residents from the Valley and Town.

Dying from thirst I left the large room, which had about 100 chairs and was filled with people, for a drink of water and ALL the press left the meeting trailing me. They were all over me but Senator Curtis Bramble left the gathering and chased me down the hallway tugging at my arm sort of shoeing them away while he spoke privately to me saying how impressed he was ( I took this as just being gracious and not really complimentary at first). Senator Bramble suggested that the "Blue Ribbon" Study group I proposed would need to have a small legislative component, because they would insist on buy-in and a link to what the report would say. He was actually trying to help me and us out.

My comment to him was "that is fine except you guys will just dredge up the same old BYU economics professor, who will go on and on about the three legged stool of taxation (sales taxes, property taxes and income taxes). And he will just insist on how we all have to pay property taxes even if we lose our jobs and are on our death beds unable to afford health insurance. I don't give a tinkers damn about that guy or his approaches to "what is best for "Shirley" or my grand kids." He seemed to be a little taken aback by my candor at first (a few nanoseconds) but quickly recovered almost suggesting that they might do better this time (than the same old BYU econ prof). He seemed to be suggesting or asking if I could participate. I replied "I would love to be involved in that study group." He is a fellow pilot and aviator, CPA background so guess we sorta hit it off somehow. He escorted me to the large gathering (about a dozen or more) of every TV news channel locally plus reporters from the AP (whom I spent extra time with), Desert Morning News, etc. And I finally met Shauna (Fuller) Francis who gave a heart felt testimony of her own later.

The Weber County Commissioners and Assessor were conspicuously absent. According to K-Bell who talked to Jim Ivie, Davis Co. Assessor, "They were not invited". This was, I take it, supposed to be a Salt Lake, Davis, Utah County shindig. But thanks to you "Val. E.", Shauna and Jeannie (Valley News), Don Porter (Standard Examiner). My main man and super "Wing-dog" Richard Sorensen (who does not get enough credit in my book) and many others the word made it up to us in the Valley. We had a significant representation with plenty of heart string tugging tales of tax abuse. And thanks to both Rex and Jenny Harris of Huntsville, who supported the concept that "it is not just about seniors but about young couples too." And Jenny suggested that second homes were a luxury and excessive, and if they just had to have so much money they should start there and leave the primary home owners alone instead of taxing them out of their homes. I thought that was a very significant contribution frankly, and one I had not fully considered. (Thank you Jenny and Rex)

Kay and I were the last to leave due to reporters lined up to talk until almost 6:30 p.m. And ole Rod Decker and his cameraman were literally outside filming through the window while I talked to the Desert Morning News reporter and a senior from Bountiful plus a young lady who organized a group of one hundred in Bountiful. I pointed at them (TV 2 cameraman and Rod Decker) to make them go away.

Our readers should know that the legislators are beginning to get the idea. Notice I said "beginning". And I feel we must keep the pressure on until they actually figure out that we (the citizens of every age demographic) demand change and not Band Aids on symptoms. It will take considerable and tough lobbying and hard work to get them to understand the "disease", in my opinion, since resistance to change is such a strong force.

Many are too comfortable with the status quo and will want expedient and immediate change of the Band Aid variety, which will do nothing but perturbate the problems in the long run.

Both Chairs asked the various groups (which I took to mean districts?) to come up with proposed solutions within the next few weeks (whenever they meet again, 17 Oct.?). And in a personal aside after the meeting officially ended, I asked Chairman Jim Dougal to have a talk with the Utah State Tax Commission. I told him about my previous request to Rep. Froerer on Sunday, 11 August, that he request an audit of the Weber County Commissioners and Assessor's office fro the State Tax Commission.
I iterated that I felt they had broken the law by not holding Truth in Taxation meetings given that TNT is not rate driven but revenue driven. He said he would check with them in case the word did not make it to them. I am still clinging to the hope (and that is all it is at this point) that the assessments will be either be declared invalid or the State Tax Commission can require an adjustment by the Weber County Assessor. They have the power to do that.

"Truth in taxation - a "revenue" driven system. Bottom line: If a taxing entity desires to budget an increased amount of advalorem revenue (exclusive of new growth) it must "go through" truth in taxation by advertisement and holding a public hearing."

I will let others who were there say their impressions as I am exhausted.

Please post this on my or this blog. And put it anywhere else so that everyone in the Valley can see it. And I really do want people to "let me have it"! To use the "comment" button and so we can have an open and honest debate. I can not be right about everything. I need our collective wisdom from all your inputs. So PLEASE don't be shy.

I got a "love note" today in the snail mail: "Read your editorial in today's paper. All I can say is "it's about time you snobs in the upper Valley started to pay your fair share of property taxes."
Citizens in Roy have carried you weight for the past three years. So shut up and pay up."
No return address or signature.

Seems like the Weber County Commissioners have some votes on the other side of the mountains and it also represents a valid sentiment we need to deal with if we are going to rid ourselves of these people in the next elections.

PS I dread seeing what they are planning to do to me personally with a reassessment. Vengeance is not beneath people who would turn a deaf ear on so many honest and sincere appeals for common decency.

And I have some lawn "For Sale -Can't afford the Taxes" signs if anyone would like to pick some up. 285 South 7200 East Huntsville Town or simply the West end of 300 South.



And more From the SL Tribune with comments by D-Bell

Group urges a yes vote on sales-tax hike for roads Northern Utah Alliance says the increase would equal $8 to $10 a month

Comments by D-Bell: “Just say “NO” to Opinion Question One.” It is “forever and incrementalism” in its worst form. Do we want the glorious things promised by these silver tongued devils. Sure we all do but the real question is do we want to pay for this or anything else for that matter to the rest of eternity? Tell them we are not stupid and we want across the board Tax Reform.

The spokesman came to the Huntsville Town Council Meeting last night with his sales pitch looking for a resolution of support. They want to be able to say “all the cities and towns” support this tax hike. It is a part of their “marketing ploy”. The mayor asked just as the silver tongued devil was leaving “Does this have an end date? The spokesperson said no.” Mayor McKay nailed it.

Folks, this is a prime example of incrementalism. We voted in 2000 for an increase for commuter rail. And it like this insanity is another tax hike WITH NO END DATE. That’s right folks it will still be there long after we are all dead and buried no matter what your age. Think about that. These smooth talking advertising types need to be shown that we are not stupid. There is virtually no limit to the amount of proposed tax increases for “good causes”. There apparently is a limit on “good judgment and common sense”. These people have mismanaged our precious resources for far too long. Vote NO more Taxes in November…PERIOD! Let’s send a very loud message to the upcoming legislative session in every way possible. We are beginning to get their attention but it is only a beginning. They are still looking at payola schemes for “special interest groups” like “seniors”. And where that may sound tempting it is both selfish and irresponsible for us “seniors” to accept such nonsense at the expense of our children and theirs.

Minor Machman

"With this initiative, we can put in place the funding options," he said. Though Question 1 will be an "opinion" question on the Nov. 6 ballot, county commissions and city councils would impose the higher tax if that's what voters decided.”

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Ron Mortensen's Paper

Ronald W. Mortensen, Ph.D.

Taxing our World War II Heroes Out of their Homes.

Recently, I had the honor to be with Utah's World War II veterans as they visited the World War II monument in Washington D.C. Even here the subject of property taxes came up as I talked with a veteran who was among the first to storm ashore on D-Day in 1944 and then fought in battles throughout Europe.

I learned that he and his wife have been married for over 62 years and like so many others of their generation, they worked hard and saved for the twilight of their lives so they would be independent and able to leave something for their children and grandchildren.

Their independence is largely built around their home and a couple of parcels of property surrounding it. They are not rich but neither are they poor. This year, their property taxes increased significantly and now the community that this man put his life on the line for is forcing him and his wife to consider selling their property which neither of them want to do.

Can't Afford the Taxes, Sell It!

This, of course, is not an isolated case. When a Kaysville resident received notice that a two-acre piece of landlocked land, that cannot be developed, had been reappraised from $50,000 to $300,000, he told Commissioners at the Truth-in-Taxation hearing that he was advised by the assessor's office to sell the land. A senior citizen told the news media that she was also advised to sell her house if she couldn't afford the taxes. In the Ogden valley, long-term residents of modest means are faced with huge tax increases that threaten their ability to keep their lifetime homes.

Young families in South Davis County who are struggling to purchase their homes, manage variable rate mortgages and keep mom home with their children are facing large, unplanned tax increases. A middle-aged couple, working multiple jobs, called me because they were afraid that they could not support their family and at the same time pay the huge property tax increase on their home.

Utahans, young and old, married and single, middle income and poor, all point out that governments, including school districts, are imposing property taxes on unrealized gains. And they note, that not even the IRS does this.

A Fatally Flawed Tax?

Before talking with the hero couple in Washington D.C., this presentation was taking a largely academic approach to property taxes with a focus on reforming the existing system and this may still be an option.

However, before accepting the status quo, it now appears that we should go a step further and ask whether a tax that is based on an imprecise evaluation system that taxes unrealized gains and that is carried out by assessors who frequently fail to comply with constitutional and/or state laws can or should be saved?

Perhaps even more fundamentally, we should ask why are we imposing a tax that denies citizens the full ownership of their property by requiring them to rent it back from the government at a cost of hundreds of dollars per month even if it has been fully paid off?

And finally, does it make sense to rely on a tax that can spin out of control as rapidly as the property tax has this year and force good, hard-working people to sell their homes and other property?

Unequal Treatment.

Utah's property tax system is deeply if not fatally flawed. It taxes property owners on unrealized gains and fails to treat like properties equally.

According to the state Constitution, "So that each person and corporation pays a tax in proportion to the fair market value of his, her, or its tangible property, all (emphasis added) tangible property in the State….shall be: (a) assessed at a uniform and equal rate in proportion to its fair market value." On its website, the Utah State Tax Commission states: "All taxable real property is appraised at 100 percent of its fair market value based upon its status and location as of January 1 each year."

Is that really what happens? Well, not exactly. Let's take a look at what County Assessors and others say and do.

James Ivie, Davis County. In a letter to the Davis County Clipper, Mr Ivie wrote: "Unfortunately, Bountiful had not been reappraised in the past 10 years, due to lack of staff in the assessor's office prior to my election to the office. As a result the values in Bountiful were lower than market value."

Salt Lake County Assessor, Lee Gardner. "With hundreds of thousands of parcels in Salt Lake County assessments are bound to be off in some places." (Source: Salt Lake Tribune).

Doug Larsen, Weber County's chief deputy assessor. "You're always going to have some errors." (Source: Standard-Examiner).

The National Taxpayers Union. Up to 60 percent of properties are overassessed. (Source: Kiplinger's Personal Finance)
Salt Lake County Tax Administration. In Salt Lake County, seven out of 10 appellants have succeeded in lowering their property values over the past seven years.
The Utah State Legislature. Utah law only requires a review of property characteristics once every five years, therefore, it is very possible that up to 80% of properties are not appraised at 100% of fair market value on January 1 of each year nor or all properties assessed at a uniform and equal rate in proportion to fair market value.
Renting Our Property Back

When property owners pay off their mortgages and any liens that may have been applied to their property, they still do not own their property outright. Rather, they have to rent it back from the government each and every year at hundreds of dollars per month. And as we have seen, government can be a capricious landlord. It rather arbitrarily assigns value, frequently increases rent, and even requires rent be paid on unrealized gains.

Forced Divestiture Benefits Governments

Just think about it, if citizens cannot be secure in their property, then government has failed them. And yet, the property tax, as currently applied in Davis County, Cedar City and the Ogden valley, will almost certainly force certain individuals to sell their highly appreciated property and with the exception of the principal home, to pay state and federal income taxes on gains that they would have preferred not to have taken at the present time. The only winners in this scenario are governments and especially school districts since they win twice. They immediately realize additional taxes resulting from the sale of the property and over the long term they may benefit from even significantly higher property taxes if the property is developed and upgraded.


Given the massive failures in the property tax system, serious consideration should be given to completely abolishing the property tax in Utah and replacing it with another source of revenue for local governmental entities including school districts.

The focus of any reform attempt must be on the right of property owners to keep and enjoy the use of their property. Nothing should ever be done to threaten any Utahan with the loss of their home or other property just so government can have a stable source of revenue or so our three-legged tax stool can remain balanced and intact.

That being said, what can be done? Here are a few ideas for your consideration based on a very quick analysis of the current situation. I'm sure that as I mull them over, I will further refine them and come up with additional options.

First, immediately, by legislative action if necessary, roll back all property tax appraisals and resulting tax increases to a period immediately before the rapid real estate price increases began in a given county. This will give the legislature time to come up with a comprehensive solution to Utah's current property tax crisis.

Second, immediately put systems into place to control government, including school district, spending. Consider implementing "Transparency in Government Spending Systems" that empower taxpayers to become fiscal watchdogs by making all taxpayer funded contracts and expenditures available on the Internet. Require all governmental entities, including school districts to publish the total compensation of the five highest paid elected officials, the five highest paid civil servants, the five highest paid individual contractors, and their five largest business contractors. Also, require all governmental entities to abolish incremental budgeting and to review all programs, on a rotating basis if necessary, in order to eliminate duplicate, outdated and nice-to-have programs.

Third, explore options for totally eliminating the property tax all together given its inequity, volatility and violation of fundamental property rights. This would allow property owners to own their property outright without having to rent it back from the government.

Fourth, if it is determined that the property tax absolutely cannot be eliminated, then develop a "Truth-in-Taxation system on steroids" to protect taxpayers and put in place an appraisal system that will ensure that all property is properly valued each and every year. Then and only then, begin reappraising properties to increase values above those set in step one above.

Fifth, do not solve the problem of certain groups by shifting the property tax burden to others. If you are going to freeze property values, freeze them for everybody, not just for a certain age or income group. Don't even consider putting government in the position of taking out reverse mortgages on homes of senior citizens through property tax deferral. This is the ultimate in legalized plunder and demeans individuals who have worked hard all of their lives to be independent of government.


1. Abolish the Property Tax

· The property tax is inherently unfair and anti-family.
o It forces individuals to pay taxes on unrealized gains – not even the IRS does this.
o Assessments are arbitrary, unreliable and often technically flawed resulting in unequal treatment of like properties in possible violation of both the Utah and United States Constitutions.
o It forces families to rent their homes back from government at hundreds of dollars per month.
o It puts great strain on young families, single income earners, etc. trying to purchase a family home.
o It is unpredictable and can increase by hundreds of thousands of dollars without any prior notice irrespective of a family's ability to pay.
o Property taxes do not fluctuate as income changes. If income declines, the property tax bill remains stable or it may even increase.
· Eliminating the property tax would also eliminate the assessment bureaucracy that just can't get it right due to limited resources and the complexities and number of parcels to be assessed.
· Abolishing the property tax would remove governments' claims on an individual's private property and put an end to citizens having to rent their property back from the government.

2. Strengthen Truth-in-Taxation – Truth-in-Taxation on Steroids

· Keep Truth-In-Taxation as current set up, including the retention of revenue from new growth, with the following modifications:
o Require that all property be assessed at the same time by fully competent and qualified assessors to avoid inequities arising from different assessment periods.
o Issue a consolidated Truth-in-Taxation notice that:
§ Shows the total amount of revenue to be raised by all proposed tax increases by all taxing entities.
§ Shows the total property tax increase for the average property owner if all the proposed increases are adopted.
§ Shows the total property tax bill for the average property owner before and after the fact if all increases are passed.
o Consolidate all Truth-in-Taxation hearings.
§ Require all taxing districts in a county, including cities, special districts, school districts, etc. to hold Truth-in-Taxation hearings at the same time in the same place and to address all increases in one hearing.
o Increases Not Requiring Voter Approval.
§ Tax increases that raise an entity's revenues by one percent (1%) or less may be approved by the current Truth-in-Taxation procedure as long as all property was assessed at the same time and a consolidate hearing process is used. (Note: See the next bullet for limitations on the number of approvals allowed under this process).
o Increases Requiring a Double-Majority Voter Approval.
§ Tax increases that raise an entity's revenues by more than 1% in any one year or more than a cumulative five percent (5%) in any ten year period and/or the issuance of new bonds or the renewal of existing bonds that are due to expire require:
· (1) all property to have been appraised at the same time.
· (2) a consolidated Truth-in-Taxation hearing be held and, if an increased is approved by the taxing entity,
· (3) approval of the voters by a "double majority" (a majority of registered voters must vote and the increase must be passed by a majority of those voting.)

3. Other Changes to Control Taxes
· Eliminate the authorization for the creation of special districts for recreation and other non-core governmental functions, all RAP and other boutique taxes, etc.
o Grandfather existing special districts taxes but limit them to existing functions.
o Reprogram existing boutique taxes to property tax relief as required.
· Require a super-majority (60%) vote by both houses of the state legislature to approve any tax increase including the delegation of taxing authority to other government entities and/or the provision of incentives for local governments to increase taxes in order to get state matching funds.
· Transparency in Government Spending – put all spending including contracts on state and local government, including school district, websites as is done at the federal level and in many states ( Minnesota, Oklahoma, Hawaii, Missouri, Texas, Indiana).
· Require all taxing entities to review all programs annually in order to eliminate duplicate programs, programs that have outlived their need, etc. by zero based or some other non-incremental budgeting process.


· Property tax deferral of any type and in any form.
· Special provisions for select groups.
· Unequal valuations for similar properties.

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."

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."