May 5, 1995 in Nation/World

Reassessments Play Havoc With Budgets Assessor’s Office Criticized For Wildly Fluctuating Property Values

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Last-minute changes to commercial property values in Spokane County are leaving the city, county and schools with a lot less money to spend than expected.

During the two days before the deadline for paying property taxes, Assessor Charlene Cooney dropped the values of five large commercial properties by more than $41 million - instantly erasing $621,039 in revenues for taxing districts.

Three of the changes were made in the last 15 minutes before the county treasurer’s office closed Monday - the final day to pay taxes without a penalty. A fourth change made earlier that day dropped one property’s assessed value from almost $2 million to less than $240,000.

“This is very unusual,” said Treasurer Linda Wolverton.

Local officials expressed shock at the 11th-hour changes, saying Cooney had assured them earlier this year they could safely base their spending on the assessments her office had provided.

One school administrator predicted Spokane School District 81’s loss of more $200,000 will require cuts in programs.

Other officials were outraged.

“Last December, we were concerned about the level of assessments,” said Commissioner Skip Chilberg. “The assessor’s office said they were satisfied and convinced the assessments were correct.”

“We’re very disappointed that swings in value of this magnitude could not have been foreseen and corrected earlier,” said Ken Stone, the city’s budget manager. The city stands to lose $184,635.

But Cooney said she did the best she could. She blamed the problems on her computer and lack of information from property owners.

“We told them that the figures we had at the time was all we could go by,” she said.

All five properties in question were assessed by Dick Weber. Cooney said he was on assignment and could not be reached for comment.

Instead, she gave a reporter a three-page statement written by Weber in the third person that described problems he had had getting information from property owners.

Attempts to reach Weber outside the assessor’s office were unsuccessful.

Schools and cities set their levy rates based on the value of property.

Once levies are certified by the county commissioners - as they were in February - taxing districts can’t change their rates. So, when values drop, taxing districts can’t recoup their unexpected cash losses.

“There’s big concern over the fact we’re losing revenue,” said Pat Zamora, accounting supervisor for District 81, which saw $207,961 evaporate in the reassessments. “This prevents us from realizing revenues that voters authorized us to have.”

Without that money, cuts will have to be made, Zamora added.

Property owners and managers say Weber’s over-inflated assessments left them scrambling to get the values changed before the taxes were due.

A vacant piece of land adjoining Riverside Cemetery assessed last year at $41,000 jumped to $1.9 million this year, resulting in a 1995 tax bill more than 40 times higher last year’s - going from $640.56 to $28,566.85.

“It was a pretty radical change,” said Duane Broyles, general manager of Fairmount Memorial Association.

The value was lowered Monday afternoon to $239,600, dropping the tax bill by $24,990.77.

The downtown Sheraton-Spokane Hotel - assessed at $16 million last year - jumped to $39.5 million this year.

Beryl Ash, of Seattle-based Riverfront Associates which owns the hotel, said the numbers are “outrageous.”

On Friday, the assessed value was dropped to just more than $20 million, which, Ash said, “is still way too high.” He said his Seattle properties - which are posher than the Spokane one - are valued much lower.

Three properties owned by Goodale & Barbieri were reassessed Monday, and changes were made to the company’s tax bill just minutes before the treasurer’s office closed.

One property - Cavanaugh’s Inn at the Park - dropped in value from $48 million to $29 million, slicing the tax bill by $281,041.

“The big re-evaluation certainly was a shock to us,” said Art Coffey, vice president of Goodale & Barbieri.

Hundreds of additional disputes over this year’s tax bills are expected in coming weeks.

Last year, nearly 1,600 appeals were filed with the state board that referees squabbles over assessed values - twice the number of disputes over 1993 values.

At least 300 of those appeals - mostly on commercial properties - remain unresolved. Several officials said they have heard nearly $400,000 in additional tax money could be lost from those appeals alone.

City Councilman Chris Anderson, who first drew attention to inaccurate appraisals earlier this year, said it is a “disgrace that the assessor’s office didn’t come public with that information when we first started hearing rumors.”

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: LAST-MINUTE TAX BREAKS In the last two days before 1995 property tax bills were due, Spokane County Assessor Charlene Cooney adjusted five large assessments. the chart shows the original assessment, the final one, the net drop, the difference in taxes and how these changes will affect four major taxing districts.

Original Final Net drop Property assessment assessment in value Net tax loss Cavanaugh’s Inn at the park $48,000,000 $29,170,000 $18,830,000 $281,041.49 Sheraton $39,500,000 $20,050,000 $19,450,000 $190,295.09 Cavanaugh’s River Inn $10,685,000 $9,755,000 $930,000 $13,880.44 IBM Building $9,600,700 $8,875,000 $725,700 $10,831.21 Riverside and Greenwood cemeteries (vacant land) $1,914,000 $239,600 $1,674,400 $24,990.77 __________________________ $41,610,000 $621,039.00 How it hits services… Total amount lost by each district City of Spokane $184,635 State schools $160,989 Local schools $207,961 Spokane County $67,171 TOTAL $621,039* *Total includes other taxing districts not listed Source: Spokane County assessor’s office Staff graphic: Vince Grippi

This sidebar appeared with the story: LAST-MINUTE TAX BREAKS In the last two days before 1995 property tax bills were due, Spokane County Assessor Charlene Cooney adjusted five large assessments. the chart shows the original assessment, the final one, the net drop, the difference in taxes and how these changes will affect four major taxing districts.

Original Final Net drop Property assessment assessment in value Net tax loss Cavanaugh’s Inn at the park $48,000,000 $29,170,000 $18,830,000 $281,041.49 Sheraton $39,500,000 $20,050,000 $19,450,000 $190,295.09 Cavanaugh’s River Inn $10,685,000 $9,755,000 $930,000 $13,880.44 IBM Building $9,600,700 $8,875,000 $725,700 $10,831.21 Riverside and Greenwood cemeteries (vacant land) $1,914,000 $239,600 $1,674,400 $24,990.77 __________________________ $41,610,000 $621,039.00 How it hits services… Total amount lost by each district City of Spokane $184,635 State schools $160,989 Local schools $207,961 Spokane County $67,171 TOTAL $621,039* *Total includes other taxing districts not listed Source: Spokane County assessor’s office Staff graphic: Vince Grippi

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