Pocatello-Chubbuck merger (Nov. 2020 election)

An aerial photo showing the border of Pocatello and Chubbuck along Interstate 86.

POCATELLO — Officials with the Idaho State Tax Commission said Thursday Bannock County’s commercial appraisals have generally fallen well below market value.

Furthermore, the tax commission leaders said the county assessor’s office has a lot of work remaining to complete the required number of site visits to commercial properties by next spring, before wrapping up the current five-year plan guiding the office.

“You’ve got 900 parcels left to do in five years and only 3,500 (commercial properties) in the whole county,” George Brown, the commission’s administrator for the property tax division, said during an update to the Bannock County Commission. “Now we’re running into the hard part at the very end, but it doesn’t look like the hard part is an impossible part.”

Though only a fifth of properties are appraised in person each year, every property must be brought to market value annually.

Despite his concerns, Brown acknowledged the considerable progress the county assessor’s office has made recently toward getting valuations across all categories up to market rates, as well as in training staff, improving its processes and getting caught up on its caseload.

“This assessor’s office has come a really long ways in the past two or three years,” Brown said. “The county had a problem two or three years ago. ... I don’t see problems going forward in the assessor’s office.”

Bannock County used to contract out its commercial assessments and now has a pair of in-house assessors in charge of them. Anita Hymas, chief deputy at the assessor’s office, told the Tax Commission officials she shares their concerns about commercial appraisals, which she said have “been in trouble for at least 40 years.”

However, Hymas is encouraged by the strides made by the county’s new commercial appraisers. She said they were recently directed to spend more time out in the field.

“The willingness we have now ... they’re amazing,” Hymas said. “They’re doing a great job and we’re going to get better.”

Don Zebe, a commercial broker with Colliers, said he’s long been aware of problems with the county’s commercial assessments. Zebe noted not all commercial rates are low: Some are “crazy” high, he said. His greatest concern is about the lack of consistency.

“I met with the assessors and pointed out the issue and even sent them a a number of examples of the inconsistency,” Zebe said.

But he, too, has faith the the new commercial appraisers are up to the challenge of getting things right.

“I believe they can fix it where there will be parity on the commercial side and a relief for residential,” Zebe said.

Matt Virgil, section manager with the tax commission, described the current staff at the assessor’s office as well-rounded and “eager to do a good job.”

Virgil has been working especially closely with Bannock County’s commercial staff, offering guidance as they review properties. Virgil said he’s seen a lot of commercial land in the county that has been assessed at roughly half of the true market value.

“At the end of the day when you see commercial land values less than what your residential is selling for, you’re tipped,” Virgil said.

Part of the problem, Brown explained, is that there are relatively few commercial sales compared with residential sales on which appraisers can derive comparisons.

“We have some concern about your commercial value level but nothing that’s not fixable, nothing that’s not trainable, nothing the assessor’s office doesn’t have the ability to monitor and correct,” Brown said.

MiaCate Kennedy I, CEO of Bannock Development Corp., believes having the assessments up to date, placing commercial properties on a level playing field and improving the tax base will facilitate her efforts to attract additional economic development to the area.

“It does need to have a good look, and I’m glad somebody is taking that on,” Kennedy said. “It will even out and we’ll be back on par and there will be some parity with what it should be. For me that helps.”

Throughout the state, Brown said there have been “varying levels of the same thing happening” regarding market growth and rising property values. Though commercial growth hasn’t equaled residential growth, Brown said it’s still been significant.

Brown and his staff plans to travel the state offering training to county assessors’ offices on how to establish a new five-year plan.

February will be the deadline for the county to submit its next five-year plan. Brown’s staff will review the document in the spring, and the county will have until June to have any additional information that must be added approved.