It’s 2020 but there’s one story from last year that just won’t go away.
The reassessment of all properties in Bannock County seems destined to be long remembered for the community outrage it inspired.
Unfortunately, the passage of time makes us feel not only less confident about the accuracy of those property valuations, but equally doubtful that the Bannock County officials involved in the mess learned anything from it.
That’s more than a bit astonishing considering that the reassessment triggered organized recall efforts to oust Bannock County Assessor Sherri Davies and all three of Bannock County’s commissioners. Although the recalls proved unsuccessful, one would think that surviving such an ordeal would cause our county officials to make the necessary corrections to win back the confidence of their constituents.
But 2020 has unfortunately brought more questions and doubts as the Bannock County Assessor’s Office begins another annual reassessment of properties.
The new year wasn’t even a month old when the reassessment issue reared its head again in the form of the Idaho Tax Commission saying the county’s 2019 assessments of ag property were so inaccurate that immediate action is required.
The Tax Commission revealed that it discovered the massively inaccurate farmland assessments via its own investigation that involved sending Tax Commission staffers to Bannock County to personally review the work of Davies’ office.
We fear that the more the Tax Commission reviews last year’s Bannock County reassessment, the more problems it will find.
In addition, it now seems that there’s a growing rift between Davies and the Bannock County Commission. Signs of this could be seen regarding last month’s ag assessment issue when there was a dispute between Davies and the county commissioners on whether she had the money in her budget to create a new ag assessor position to make sure that the farmland in the county is being properly reassessed.
Now we’re hearing from the county commissioners that they don’t like the way Davies communicates with county property owners. The commissioners feel that if she talked to people upset with their assessments early on in the process that solutions could be worked out, negating the need for those property owners to file time-consuming appeals with the county.
The county commissioners stood by Davies during last year’s controversial reassessment, but now it seems perhaps they’ve had enough, especially if what we’ve been hearing for months is true that it’s hard for property owners to get a returned call from her office.
A cynical person might say the commissioners are simply doing some posturing during an election year.
But the fact that the Idaho Tax Commission is still involved in Bannock County’s assessment woes tells us all everything we need to know about the competence of the Assessor’s Office.
Every county in Idaho routinely performs property reassessments and typically only a small number of appeals fail to be resolved on the county level and reach the Idaho Board of Tax Appeals for a hearing.
The Tax Commission is correct in seeing the dozens of assessment appeals to the state from Bannock County property owners last year as a big red flag that something’s wrong.
These appeals occurred despite the county’s best efforts last year to correct the reassessments done by Davies’ office. The county resorted to blanket assessment reductions and in some cases the rollback of entire neighborhoods to 2018 property assessment levels.
But those efforts seemed so selective and unfair that some are now saying that the county has put itself in a position that it could become the target of a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of all Bannock County property owners.
The city of Pocatello last year lost a multi-million-dollar class-action suit for overcharging city residents for water, sewer and garbage collection services. Compared to what we all pay in property taxes, those fees are pretty minuscule.
Davies’ office is currently conducting its 2020 property reassessment, and we fear that more upheaval could ensue.
We’re absolutely cringing at the thought of what will happen when Bannock County property owners receive their new assessment notices in the mail later this year.
We don’t want to go through another 2019 reassessment, during which armed Bannock County sheriff’s deputies literally had to take up residence at the Assessor’s Office because of the angry mobs of property owners showing up to complain about reassessments they felt far exceeded actual property values.
It should be a huge priority for our county officials to avoid that fiasco, but when we hear about friction between the county commissioners and assessor we start fearing the worst.
It’s equally troubling that the Idaho Tax Commission is investigating the work of Davies’ office, but considering what happened last year, the Tax Commission’s oversight and guidance are welcome.
The bottom line is the problems that led to the botched 2019 Bannock County reassessment might still exist.
That’s the scary truth.
We need Davies and the county commissioners to drop whatever differences they have and to work together to ensure 2020’s reassessment isn’t a case of deja vu.
And the Idaho Tax Commission would be wise to pay more attention to what’s going on here in Bannock County and not less.
Because this is definitely a case where having the state breathing down the necks of Bannock County officials is a good thing.
In fact, it might make all the difference.