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Bonner rollback rolls on

SANDPOINT – The Bonner County Commission is moving forward with its plan to roll back property valuations to 2005 levels but likely will decide Tuesday to exempt business equipment, commercial property and perhaps mobile homes.

The commission called a special meeting Thursday afternoon to hash out with the county assessor’s office how to move forward with what’s characterized as an unprecedented step in Idaho tax history.

The assessor no longer must meet Monday’s initial deadline to undo this year’s assessments. Now the stopwatch starts after the commission makes a final determination of exactly which type of properties and equipment they want rolled back.

After that, it could take at least until Sept. 1 to calculate the new assessed value for the county. Property owners likely won’t get new assessment notices until Sept. 15.

The commission said property owners won’t have the ability to make new appeals to the Board of Equalization.

The assessor’s staff encouraged the commission not to include business equipment and commercial property – areas where owners made few appeals – in the rollback to speed the process along.

The staff also questions whether it can get the monumental task done in time because many of the new calculations on thousands of parcels must be done by hand.

Assessor Judie Conlan said the state Tax Commission advised her to follow the commission’s order.

“We’ll see what comes of it,” said Conlan, who defends her office’s 2006 assessments values.

She asked commissioners Thursday for an additional $20,000 to pay staff overtime and perhaps contract with former county employees who are familiar with the assessment process.

Some people question whether the commission’s move is even legal.

Ted Spangler, a deputy attorney general assigned to the Idaho Tax Commission, wasn’t available for comment Thursday.

Deputy Assessor Paula Chapin told the commission that the rollback ultimately could stall the county budget process, which would also affect local cities because the levy rate that’s used to calculate property taxes might not be known by budget deadlines.

Last week the county commission made the surprise announcement to cancel all of the 2006 assessments, except for those on $344 million in new construction. It’s estimated that the 2005 assessed value of property in the county will total $4.3 billion plus the new construction dollars.

The commission said that more than 62 percent of the appealed assessments it had heard so far were too high and needed to be lowered. Commissioner Marcia Phillipssaid those errors were made by the assessor’s office. Phillips also said that concerns over due process emerged because many people couldn’t file their appeals by the deadline because the assessor’s phone and fax lines were jammed.

Another problem was that the commission, which also acts as the Board of Equalization, didn’t have enough time to hear all the appeals, she said.

Conlan stands by her office’s work and said the county commission never has given her department enough money to keep up with the assessments, particularly evaluating new construction in the resort area that’s seen unprecedented growth.

“I was never funded to do my job properly,” she said.

The total assessed value of property in the county increased 69 percent from 2005 to 2006, shocking property owners and prompting 2,700 appeals. That’s what commissioners said prompted their rollback order.

“We believe the values for 2005 were probably very close to accurate,” Phillips said. “So you go back to where you know you are standing on some solid information.

Conlan said the rollback will have varying effects on property owners, increasing some property values and decreasing others. But more importantly, the levy rate, which is used to calculate property taxes, will no longer decrease, she said. That’s because the total value of property in the county will go down.

Yet nobody knows what the rollback means for tax bills. It remains to be seen if the Legislature will have a special session in late August to consider changing the state’s tax system to provide property tax relief.

Kootenai County commissioners are not applauding Bonner County’s decision. They said a rollback isn’t the answer to the skyrocketing property values that have hit North Idaho. To them, it’s just a way for Bonner County to make headlines.

“Over my dead body,” Commissioner Rick Currie said when asked if Kootenai County would follow Bonner’s lead. “We owe the citizens of Kootenai County to do a better job than that. We aren’t going to shirk our responsibility.”

When Bonner County Commissioners canceled all of this year’s assessments, it meant they no longer had to hear more than 2,000 remaining appeals. Nearly 1,000 Kootenai County property owners appealed their assessments.

Currie predicts the state will intervene and end up assigning a blanket increase in property values to Bonner County, which he said will ultimately hurt taxpayers.

Philips said that Kootenai County has a different assessor’s office and likely doesn’t have so many alleged errors in the valuations, so a rollback isn’t needed.

“We anticipate we will be able to take this situation and make it right so the state Tax Commission won’t have to come in and do anything,” she said. “We don’t anticipate we would have any difficulty at all.”


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