Assessor backs fee for appeals

Property owners who mostly prove their points would pay nothing

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

Published:

 

Clark County Assessor Peter Van Nortwick said he’s supporting proposed legislation that would allow counties to charge commercial property owners up to $500 to appeal their assessed values.

Currently, there’s no cost to file an appeal to the Board of Equalization.

Under the proposed law, an appellant who “substantially prevails” would be refunded the filing fee.

Van Nortwick met with county commissioners Feb. 17 to discuss Senate Bill 5675, co-sponsored by State Sen. Craig Pridemore, D-Vancouver.

Since taking office in January, Van Nortwick said he was surprised to learn that commercial property owners who own dozens of parcels routinely appeal their assessed values but don’t provide any supporting documents, such as how much rent they charge their tenants.

Clark County has approximately 165,000 parcels. Van Nortwick said that if his office receives even a few thousand appeals, it can amount to three to four months’ worth of work. A filing fee would cut down on the number of automatic appeals and help reimburse the county for its costs, he said.

“These people do it every year, like clockwork, because why not? There’s no reason not to,” Van Nortwick told commissioners.

When Van Nortwick met with commissioners, the county’s lobbyist in Olympia, Mike Burgess, said he anticipates opposition from the business community.

Van Nortwick said there are potential problems with the bill, such as the fact that only commercial property owners would pay a fee.

Commissioner Tom Mielke said he had a concern with the idea of charging for an appeal.

“It’s going to cost me money to check my government,” Mielke said. “I think we are looking at a fee to discourage people from filing.”

Van Nortwick said he doesn’t like imposing fees, but something has to be done. “The abuse has gotten so out of hand,” he said.

When property owners do file appeals, the burden of proof is on them to show why the county’s assessment is inaccurate.

When Van Nortwick campaigned last year, he said he would fight for a law that would shift the burden of proof onto the county.

After taking office and seeing property owners who, he says, abuse the process by filing automatic appeals with no supporting information, he has changed his mind about that particular campaign pledge.

“I would not push for that,” he said.

The county already provides the information to support the assessed value, he said.

Van Nortwick also told commissioners that he liked Senate Bill 5675 because it would ease a requirement that a physical inspection (drive by) must be done for every property, once every six years.

That doesn’t make sense for vacant, rural lots, Van Nortwick said. His staff could easily use aerial imagery available online to check that there have been no significant changes to the parcel.