Delegation, commissioners discuss tax assessments

February 03, 2006|by TAMELA BAKER


Washington County delegates met Thursday with the Washington County Commissioners to discuss county residents' rising property tax assessments. The commissioners said they're looking at options to grant some relief to property owners.

Tim O'Rourke, supervisor of the local Office of State Assessments, said during the meeting that properties reassessed this year showed a record overall increase of 59 percent - just below the statewide increase of 60 percent.

Residential property assessments increased 73 percent and commercial property assessments rose by 31 percent, he said.

"I've been with the assessment office for 28 years and that's the largest increase ever," O'Rourke said.

O'Rourke said investors are buying homes at pre-construction prices and selling them at a profit once they're completed.

"It's an indication that things are really strong," he said. "Not a day goes by that we don't get a call from a developer wanting to know if there are any lots they can buy."


And while developers once were happy just to find lots, he said, "now they want to buy the whole farm."

Delegation members last year made rising assessments an issue when the commissioners asked for enabling legislation to revise the excise tax - charged on new development to pay for roads, schools and other county facilities.

The resulting statute required the county government to report to the delegation on the impact of assessments on county revenue, senior citizens and others. The intent was to find a means of tax relief.

Delegation Chairman Christopher B. Shank had said he was disappointed that the county had not, in his opinion, met that condition. On Thursday, Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell agreed.

"I don't think we gave it the look-see it deserved," Wivell said. "We didn't do a thorough analysis."

The commissioners have been "inundated" with complaints about reassessments, he said.

"People on the median income in Washington County can't afford to live in Washington County anymore," he said.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, told the commissioners that "we have got to come up with some kind of a plan to guarantee these folks can continue to live there there are a lot of people in Washington County who do not want to sell their homes."

Wivell said he was "absolutely, 100 percent behind providing tax relief."

The commissioners discussed sending rebates to property owners but Wivell said the final number for any rebates would depend on final revenues for fiscal year 2006, which ends June 30.

Another option some of the commissioners wanted to consider was to exempt a certain portion of the property's value from taxation, but Wivell said he believed state law prohibits that.

Commissioner John C. Munson said he wanted to see the cap on assessments reduced from 10 percent to 5 percent, and the tax rate reduced to "constant yield" - the tax rate needed to provide revenues equal to the prior year.

"We needed to find out what the public wants, and by God we're gettin' 'em," he said.

Commissioner James F. Kercheval said he didn't think reducing the cap would bring as much relief as people think. The rebates being discussed, he said, probably would give taxpayers more.

In last year's excise tax bill, the delegation stipulated that the commissioners review various options for lowering the tax burden, including maintaining the constant yield, capping assessments and expanding tax credits.

The county also was required to study the impact of growth on assessments.

"I must say I am disappointed the county did not take seriously our request," Shank said.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook and Commissioner Doris J. Nipps did not attend Thursday's meeting.

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