Reading the newspaper on Saturday morning? Here’s some irony to go with your Cheerios.
Nearly 1,000 property owners in Lewis County have petitioned that their property valuations (and subsequent tax payments) are too high. That’s three times as many petitions as last year.
To handle this huge influx, the county has to cut down on the amount of time spent on each hearing, making it harder to collect and prioritize the data necessary for an accurate valuation, according to Lewis County Board of Equalization Chair Tom Crowson.
To combat this, they could hire more staff … by raising taxes.
Property tax rates are calculated based on dollars per $1,000 of a property owner’s assessed value.
Rates can be argued on the ballot. But assessed value is in the hands of the local assessor’s office, which is required, by law, to assess property at 100% of its true and fair market value. Those assessments are based on sales. In 2021, when local real estate sales were booming, property revaluations skyrocketed.
To argue the assessor’s office messed up — maybe they didn’t notice the dilapidated back wall of your house, or the fact that your basement is flooded or some other factor contributing to property value — residents must file an appeal with the Lewis County Board of Equalization. And, as certain as death and taxes, they aren’t going to argue to raise their property’s assessed value.
The about 975 appeals filed in Lewis County this year come from property owners urging the assessor’s office to drop the soaring property values from 2021 that are now appearing on their 2022 taxes.
Crowson, who ran an unsuccessful bid for Lewis County Assessor last year, said many of the appellants want to argue the county is screwing them, while many others are simply confused about the complicated taxing process.
The board is meant to serve as the quasi-judicial (judge-like) figure between the appellant and the assessor’s office.
They answer questions, work through the calculations and help both sides reach an understanding, to the best of their ability. But, also by state law, the assessor’s office has the presumption of correctness. Meaning, it’s the property owner’s burden to prove them wrong.
With the number of appeals increasing exponentially, the board of three volunteers can only see people for 20 minute periods. But, according to the clerk of the board, on Thursday, only half the people who scheduled an appointment actually showed up.
On Thursday, among a long list of hearings in front of the board, Morton resident, city councilor and real estate agent Caro Johnson came to argue her home’s assessed value of $463,000 was about $100,000 too high.
Johnson sold 45 homes in the year of 2021, when her property was last assessed.
“I’m very aware of what happened in 2021. I had an amazing year,” Johnson said.
She bought her place in 2020 for $275,000. In December 2020, just one month before the assessment year, the property was professionally appraised at $280,000, a number that she was “tickled pink” to see.
“Now we're seeing that the value in 2021 was assessed to be at $463,000. So it just looks like a disparity and I wonder if that could be addressed,” she said.
The assessor’s office didn’t appear to back down. Johnson will receive a mailed decision from the board within 45 days and, if unsatisfied with the determination, is allowed to file with the state’s board of equalization.
“We had people coming from King County, from the Portland area, from out of state, and they're buying homes here. Sight unseen,” Crowson said of 2021’s market. “Hopefully things have settled down a little bit, but we’re always going to be a year behind.”