Kootenai County Commissioners decided unanimously Monday to change the way some rural property is assessed, returning it to how it was done in years past.
The change saves some Cougar Gulch homeowners hundreds of dollars apiece in annual property taxes. Forty-three homeowners in the area appealed the new assessment procedure, mainly because it denied them timber tax breaks they had enjoyed for years.
Commissioners, who have about 30 similar appeals still to decide, said they will likely make the same decision in most of those cases.
“This is a grand and glorious day for Kootenai County,” waxed Commissioner Ron Rankin, who at a meeting last week tried to give the homeowners $200 to fund their efforts, an offer they refused.
If the county assessor’s office appeals the decision, the tax tug-of-war will go before the Idaho Tax Commission.
“We were very hopeful, and I’m pleased,” said Cougar Gulch resident Donna Erickson. “But I don’t know that it’s going to end there. I think that the assessor’s office is going to send it to the state.”
Kootenai County Assessor Marvin Vandenberg said he’ll meet with his staff today to decide the next move.
Ironically, an appeal could actually broaden the impact of the commission’s decision.
If the state agrees with county commissioners, it would overturn the new assessment procedure altogether, Commissioner Dick Compton said.
Monday’s decision only applies to property owners who have contested the change. That surprised Erickson, who thought the decision would affect everyone in Cougar Gulch and all of Kootenai County.
About 100 Cougar Gulch homeowners signed a neighborhood petition protesting the new assessment method, and hundreds more live in the area.
Those who aren’t affected this time could still appeal next year, said Commissioner Dick Panabaker.
The new assessment method was used mostly in District 5 in the south. That’s because the assessor’s office claimed homes there were selling fast and property values were rising.
Cougar Gulch homeowners hired their own planner and appraiser, both of whom denied values are climbing.
Here’s why the change in assessing rural property angered Cougar Gulch residents: If someone owned 10 acres - nine wooded, one used for a home - the value of any roads or other improvements on the nine wooded acres would be added to the residential acre’s value.
So no matter the property’s total value, the nine wooded acres would amount to only about $14,000 of it - meaning the value of that one residential acre shoots way up. The new plan assumes the timbered acres all are worth only about $1,500 each.
That’s why the timber exemptions are out the window; most of what is actually being taxed is the comparatively small slice of residential land.
“People are coming to us asking, ‘Where can you get an acre of land for $1,500?”’ Panabaker said. “Well, you can’t.”
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