Once again, tax wolf Ron Rankin has set up shop in Kootenai County’s courthouse, offering an ear to homeowners griping about rising property values.
But this year, he’s a judge - not an advocate.
It’s assessment appeals time again, and the man fellow commissioners held partly responsible for the more than 900 appeals filed in 1995 is getting his first shot at life on the other side of the table.
Rankin presided over his first property value appeal as a commissioner last week. The result: Denied.
Some might see irony in the consummate outsider siding with the county assessor against a taxpayer. Not Rankin.
“That would be assuming the assessor is wrong on everything he does,” Rankin said. “I never said that.”
In this case, Washington resident Fred Hanson told commissioners he’d watched as the value of his unheated Lake Coeur d’Alene summer home jumped 48 percent in three years to more than $400,000.
He pointed out that his neighbor’s vacant land had been on the market for 12 years for a mere $30,000.
“They have a view and it still won’t sell,” Hanson said.
But appraiser Charles Murrell pointed out no home could be built on the neighbor’s property. He also compared Hanson’s beach-front land with similar properties, valued about the same.
“The reality is, that’s what people are willing to pay,” Commissioner Dick Compton said, before all three commissioners voted to deny Hanson’s appeal.
Rankin urged Hanson to appeal the commissioners’ decision to the state.
“I think (Hanson) had some good arguments, but he wasn’t prepared,” said Rankin.
In two other appeals he heard last Thursday, Rankin voted to cut one resident’s property value in half, and postponed a decision on another homeowner’s appeal.
The longtime assessment critic said he enjoys hearing the appeals.
“It’s nice to be in a position to at least participate in the decision,” he said. “I don’t have any less objection to taxes than I had before.”
In 1995, Kootenai County property values jumped an average of 28 percent. That year, residents formed lines at the assessor’s office that stretched into the street.
Through it all, Rankin set up camp in the courthouse, collecting signatures on his property tax-limiting initiative - which later failed - and helping residents file appeals. His Kootenai County Property Owners Association also held forums, offering step-by-step instruction on how to appeal by themselves.
Compton later blamed Rankin, in part, for that summer’s lengthy appeals process, which dragged on for several months and cost more than $300,000 in overtime pay.
Last week, however, Rankin said he wasn’t pushing people to appeal that year.
“We never urged people to file appeals,” he said. “We just showed them how. We were there primarily to collect signatures.”
Much has changed.
This year, the majority of property owners saw no increase in their assessments. But many rural residents, particularly those with waterfront land or nice views, saw huge increases - in some cases more than 100 percent.
But the lines from the assessor’s office are short. Commissioners have scheduled fewer than 50 appeals. The property owners association isn’t holding any informational meetings.
“That’s so far,” Rankin said. “There’s always a chance things could change.”
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