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Assessor Gives City More Bad News

Fri., June 2, 1995

Bad news may get twice as bad for the city of Spokane’s 1995 budget.

County Assessor Charlene Cooney told council members Thursday that the $404,000 tax loss they learned about last month could more than double to $880,000 before changes to assessed valuations are completed.

Cooney called that number the “total worst-case scenario of tax dollar changes,” adding that the city’s total loss to date stands at $542,000.

“Do you not have this in your reserves?” Cooney said after she and two staff members had detailed the city’s potential losses during the council’s briefing session.

“Basically, in our budget, that was our reserves,” deadpanned Mayor Jack Geraghty.

Cooney has come under increasing fire for inaccurate appraisals that have forced her to slash more than $146 million from the county’s assessed valuation.

Reports in mid-May showed the county’s total valuation dropping $96 million, but more changes have caused another $50 million to be pulled from tax rolls, Cooney said.

Nearly 300 appeals remain outstanding. By the time all the changes have been made, nearly $202 million could be dropped from the county’s total valuation, the assessor said.

Cooney described the job of revaluing properties as a “huge task” made worse by “bad luck.”

Her office has been overwhelmed since she took the job in September 1992, she said. Massive changes in the assessment process, including switching from a fouryear reassessment cycle to an annual cycle, have left her employees scrambling to keep up.

A lack of staff and a complicated computer system also are to blame, she “What is the likelihood of things getting worse?” asked Councilman Chris Anderson.

“I hesitate to ever say something’s cast in concrete. That would be ridiculous,” said David Wunder, the county’s appraisal manager. But changes beyond the “worst-case scenario” discussed Thursday are unlikely, he said.

Councilman Orville Barnes told Cooney that while he sympathizes with the magnitude of the reappraisal process, some of the problems easily could have been resolved.

His “inside information” has forced him to believe that reassessments for at least one piece of property “defied logic,” he said.

Barnes works for Goodale & Barbieri, which owns Cavanaugh’s Inn at the Park. That hotel’s assessed value jumped from nearly $20 million in 1993 to more than $48 million in 1994. Cooney later dropped that figure to $29 million.

“I think your appraiser didn’t use good judgement,” Barnes told Cooney.

Several measures have been put in place to ensure problems of this kind aren’t repeated next year, Wunder told the council. Those changes include:

Sending out revaluation notices no later than Aug. 19, with all appeals to be filed by Sept. 18.

Forming a review panel of appraisers to examine major properties and to audit value changes from year to year.

Setting up a system to track the number of potential valuation differences for all appeals filed in 1995.

Dick Adams, a resident who frequently criticizes government spending, said the tax shortfall is a “blessing in disguise. They’ve got to tighten their belts whether they like it or not.”

The city’s budget isn’t alone in feeling a pinch. So far, Spokane School District 81 has lost more than $630,000 in anticipated revenues. Worst-case scenario for the district? $1.02 million in losses.

“We are concerned that we’ll wind up in the red for this year,” said Walt Rulffes, associate superintendent, adding that the district is looking at several cuts.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

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