Property appraiser Darin Krier leaned into the phone and sighed.
“I realize that you’re seeing a huge increase from one year to the next,” he told the irate homeowner. “Most, if not everyone, on the lake …”
The angry caller cut him off. The assessed value of his Hayden Lake summer cabin had risen from $129,000 last year to $211,000 this year.
Kootenai County assessments - the value set on property for the purpose of figuring taxes - jumped an average 28 percent this year.
But many property owners saw values take huge jumps. Some assessments doubled.
Today at 5 p.m. is the deadline for property owners to file appeals of their assessments. Many, such as the homeowner Krier was talking to, can’t believe their property is worth so much.
“We go out and talk to old people, and they start crying,” said Krier. “They’re getting taxed out of their homes. They have no place to go but the assessor. We’re in a very tough position.”
By Friday, more than 1,840 people had requested appeal forms. More than 300 actually had filed appeals. Another 2,000 people have gotten their assessments lowered slightly after going straight to the appraisers.
“These tax appeals are the 2-by-4 that finally got the mule’s attention,” said tax foe Ron Rankin.
Irene Katena’s hearing is Tuesday.
“In five years, our assessment has increased 86 percent,” said the Coeur d’Alene resident. “We’re willing to pay our share, but this is too much.”
Rankin has taken advantage of the furor, working the courthouse hallways to get signatures on a petition for a 1 percent cap on tax hikes.
“On these tax appeals, the only ones who are benefiting are the ones who take the time to appeal,” he said. “And they are really benefiting.”
By the end of last week, county commissioners had heard 75 appeals and were scrambling to make appointments for the rest. Among the early appeals, more than half the appellants were successful in getting their valuations lowered.
A normal year sees only about 50 appeals. Because of the appeals onslaught this year, the state tax commission on Thursday gave the county a two-week extension past the July 10 deadline.
“Lunch is down to 30 minutes,” said County Commissioner Dick Compton.
Compton’s own assessment rose 6 percent to $399,615. Commissioner Dick Panabaker’s assessment rose 24 percent to $71,894. Commissioner Bob Macdonald’s rose 21 percent to $119,497.
Assessor Tom Moore said values are up this year because thousands of parcels had been assessed too low in recent years.
The assessment on Moore’s home rose 30
percent this year to $118,541. A check of the assessments for county appraisers’ homes showed increases ranging from 1 percent to 27 percent.
State law requires assessments to be at least 90 percent of “market value” - the price a piece of property could be sold for.
If assessments are below that, the state tax commission can swoop in and revalue everyone under a state formula.
Unlike in Washington, Idaho real estate sales figures aren’t public. Thus, Idaho assessments are based on voluntary surveys of home buyers and real estate agents. Appraisers extrapolate values from there. “We’re basing it upon the half the information we get,” said Moore. He wants a public disclosure law passed.
Moore has spent most of the past week trying to explain the increases and what they will mean.
The higher valuations won’t, he said, mean a 28 percent increase in most people’s taxes.
Taxes are set by local highway districts, schools, cities, library districts, hospitals and other taxcollecting agencies. There are more than 40 such districts in Kootenai County alone.
“I take all the heat for people’s taxes,” said Moore. “But we’re basically a collecting agency for the other taxing districts. The money goes to the Worley Highway District, the schools, the cities.”
To lower taxes, he said, property owners need to lean on those districts to trim their budgets.
Moore is a big fan of the 3 percent tax cap included in Gov. Phil Batt’s budget this year.
Moore also wants the Legislature to require the various taxing districts to file their budgets earlier so every assessment notice can include an estimated tax bill. Tax bills now go out in November.
“If I had that this year, two-thirds of them (angry property owners) would have said, ‘Oh. OK. I can live with that,”’ Moore said. “People think their taxes are going up 28 percent. But I can assure them they’re not.”
The reason: While property owners see only their increased assessments, their neighbors’ assessments also are going up. The property-value pie is getting bigger.
But the tax slice is staying about the same, officials claim. County leaders, highway district commissioners and the mayors of Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls have said they will increase spending only if it is paid for by taxes on new construction.
That translates into a relatively small tax increase for many county homeowners. Many homeowners, county officials say, actually are likely to pay less in property taxes than they did last year.
“For an average $100,000 house in Coeur d’Alene this year, the taxes will be less next year in concrete dollars,” said Compton.
The commissioner said he would like to see the state’s formulas for liquor tax and sales tax distribution revamped so Kootenai County would get more money. He also said schools shouldn’t be funded through property taxes.
“We’re working our tails off, but we’re chasing pennies compared with what it would be like if property tax was funding what it should be.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo Graphic: Kootenai County’s property values jump