POCATELLO — The Bannock County Assessor’s Office saw a steady stream of citizens filing through its doors Tuesday afternoon to voice concerns about significant increases to their property assessments.
The crowd of people at the Assessor’s Office on North Sixth Avenue across from the Bannock County Courthouse became so thick that Bannock County Assessor Sheri Davies stopped meeting with people individually and instead hosted a roundtable discussion with dozens of very concerned property owners.
Davies pointed out that all of the property assessments in Bannock County need to be in line with actual market values. This is mandated by the state. If the assessed property values in the county do not match true market values, the state has the authority to come in and set the assessed values and residents would have no chance to appeal, Davies said.
Davies stressed that the increased assessed property values in Bannock County do not mean that property taxes will increase at the same rate or at all.
”It’s understandable that people are upset. So I invited them to come into my office so we could visit about this,” Davies said.
“People should be involved in their government. I hope that we can educate people on this process, which starts with the valuation of the county.”
Davies said that if Bannock County residents want to discuss their new assessments, they can call the Assessor’s Office at 208-236-7260. Even if they leave a message, someone from the office will return the phone call within 48 hours, Davies said.
She said Assessor’s Office employees are working overtime to talk to county residents about the new assessments and correct any errors.
Davies’ efforts to reassure Bannock County residents are definitely needed considering the many people who visited her office on Tuesday to express their concerns over their increased assessments.
Some of the residents said Davies’ office has increased their property assessments by 40 percent, though the average assessment increase in the county seems to be around 25 percent.
Former Bannock County Commissioner Steve Hadley of Pocatello was one of dozens of residents who showed up at Davies’ office on Tuesday concerned about the new assessments, which the office provided to county residents on Monday via mail.
That was over two weeks late. Davies said computer problems in her office were a big factor in the delay.
Hadley said the new assessment Davies’ office gave his house was a $100,000 or 28 percent increase over the previous assessment.
Hadley said he is not sure yet if he will appeal the new assessment, but he plans to try to persuade Davies’ office to lower the assessment to a more realistic figure.
Verl Evans, who’s lived in Inkom for the past 15 years, said his new assessed home value rose by 20 percent, which is the highest increase he has ever seen as a resident of Bannock County.
Evans, who also owns a diesel engine mechanic shop on South Fifth Avenue in Pocatello, said that if his new home assessment is indicative of what he could expect to pay in property taxes, he will consider selling his home and business and moving elsewhere in the state.
“We’re already the highest taxed county in the whole freaking state,” Evans said about Bannock County. “I know what the tax rates are up in Mackay where I own some other property. I can build a good, fair-sized shop up there for $25,000 and the tax liability on that is very, very low. If I can’t afford to live here, I am going to sell my home and work for a farmer up there, which could put a few other people out of work here, too.”
Compounding the large increases in Bannock County property assessments imposed by the Assessor’s Office were the late assessment notices — mailed 18 days later than normal. Compounding those late notices was the fact that the notices themselves stated the deadline for appealing the new assessments was 5 p.m. Monday — the day the notices were received by Bannock County residents.
This all caused panic throughout Bannock County.
One bit of good news is that the deadline to appeal the new assessments has been extended to July 9, according to Bannock County Commissioner Terrel “Ned” Tovey, who said his assessed home value increased by about 25 percent.
Tovey also stressed how important it is for citizens to know the increases in property assessments imposed by the Assessor’s Office are not necessarily a direct reflection of what citizens can expect to pay in property taxes.
“There are a ton of misnomers out there about home assessments and property taxes,” Tovey said. “That home value assessment is not a tax increase. The (levy) rates have not yet been determined and won’t be until after the budget is set. And until those (levy) rates have been set we won’t know how the assessed home values will affect the property tax you pay.”
Typically, if the assessed value of all the properties in Bannock County increases, the tax rate, also known as the levy rate, is lowered, meaning that property taxes for county residents will stay the same or only slightly increase.
Idaho has established a 3 percent cap, in most circumstances, on how much the property tax rate can increase on any given year.
According to George Brown, a property tax administrator with the Idaho Tax Commission, the property tax rates in Bannock County will absolutely go down as a result of the property assessments in the county increasing.
“There will not be a massive property tax increase in Bannock County,” Brown said. “I guarantee you the levy rates in that county will go down. The rates will drop, but by how much I’m not sure.”
Brown said Bannock County is not the only county in the state to see increased property assessments, primarily because property values in the state have skyrocketed this year.
Allen Dornfest, a property tax policy bureau chief with the Idaho Tax Commission, says on average home values in the state are increasing by about 1 or 2 percent each month. Because the property assessment process lags about six months behind, that number can become considerably large by the time an assessor evaluates a home, Dornfest said.
Dornfest said it would not be a surprise if the statewide average for assessed home values increases by about 15 to 20 percent this year, adding that had Bannock County not increased its property assessments to fall more in line with actual market values, the county would have been out of compliance with the Idaho Tax Commission.
Dornfest said the increased property assessments in Bannock County were needed because many of the homes in the county were under assessed compared to the market value. The property assessment increases, Dornfest said, are actually a reflection of Davies doing her job correctly.
Dornfest said, “It’s not that someone made a mistake last year. What makes the properties under assessed is that values are increasing so fast. Values are going up rapidly and that is certainly the case in Bannock County. If they didn’t make any adjustments this year, there is no question they would fail compliance. The assessor there did her job.”