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Cougar Gulch Residents Protest Property Taxes They Say Assessments Way Out Of Line; Commissioners Blame The Legislature

With a mobile blood donor clinic unwittingly in the background, residents of Cougar Gulch gathered at the Kootenai County Courthouse on Friday to protest tax assessments they say are bleeding them dry.

“This year, they picked out a formula unknown to anyone,” said Dick Erickson.

“Last year our property was assessed at $220,000. This year it’s valued at $348,000.

“We put it on the market two days ago at $193,000. Why would I be trying to sell for $193,000 if I could get $348,000?”

Erickson wore a sandwich board reading “Seniors Don’t Need Higher Taxes. 130 percent increase in value in 12 months.” He was one of about a dozen people from the Cougar Gulch area picketing the courthouse.

Many were senior citizens who say their Social Security cost of living increase won’t keep up with tax assessments.

Residents from the area organized recently after receiving their assessments. They have hired their own property appraiser and also plan to take their anger to legislators.

Part of what they are pressing for is a cap on assessment increases that better reflects the cost of living.

“Property taxes level off? So did the space probe when it reached maximum height,” said Bobby Waits, a Cougar Gulch resident.

“They do this every year, a little at a time,” added Donald Gallagher.

“They are smart enough not to do it countywide - they know we would burn down city hall.”

The Kootenai County commissioners were somewhat sympathetic. “If we had not been in here hearing (tax) appeals, I would have been out there protesting too,” said Ron Rankin, father of the oft-failing property tax initiative in Idaho.

But Rankin put the finger on the Legislature. “We have to obey the rules and regulations set up by the Tax Commission and approved by the Legislature,” Rankin said.

“They run around and promise all kinds of tax relief and then we don’t hear from them again.”

Dick Compton, chairman of the board of commissioners, also blames the Legislature. He also urged caution.

“Those are assessments,” he said. “We don’t know yet if their taxes went up.”

Part of what’s pushing the increase in assessments is the rising value of rural property. “The last three to four years, rural land has really been skyrocketing and people have been paying lots of money for it,” Compton said.

“We look at whether the markets substantiate what the assessor has done and whether they have assessed everybody fairly. To change things, people need to get to the Legislature.”

Sen. Clyde Boatright, R-Rathdrum, acknowledges that the Legislature approves the rules. But it only levies three-tenths of a percent of the property taxes.

The rest of the taxes are set by the county and the taxing districts. If people don’t like the price of government, they need to let the officials at the taxing districts know, he said.

Rep. Don Pischner, R-Coeur d’Alene, says he, too, would blame the state, if he were a county commissioner. It’s misleading, he contends.

“The Legislature sets the policy, the taxing district sets the dollar valuation and in the end it’s the people themselves in the services they demand,” Pischner said.

While he agrees the Legislature needs to update the way property is assessed, he doesn’t see it happening quickly. Few areas of the state are affected by real estate inflation the way Kootenai County is.

Erickson and the other protesters weren’t surprised by the reactions.

“The county blames the state, the state blames the county,” he said.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo