Property taxes due; appeal is unsettled

B.G. property owner told to pay on disputed value; next bill may be adjusted

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

Published:

 

Who gets what

To see in detail how your tax money is spent, go to http://www.clark..... Click “property information,” then “Clark County Property Information Center.” Enter your address. When your account summary comes up, click “taxes,” then “tax distribution.”

Less than 1 percent of Clark County property owners challenge assessed values, but count Peter van Schoonhoven among those who did after receiving notice last fall that the county believes his Battle Ground-area home and land are worth a total of $581,462.

Van Schoonhoven said his challenge was the first he’s filed since buying his home in 1986 because, until now, he always thought the assessed value was reasonable.

His value was reduced by 5 percent in 2010 and another 0.5 percent in 2011; he thought it should have dropped more and be placed closer to $480,000.

He looked at the comparable properties the county used in assessing his property and didn’t think they were comparable. He lives on less than three acres, and one of the “comparables” was a house on 35 acres that sold for $1.1 million.

But what prompted van Schoonhoven to contact The Columbian is that first-half property taxes are due April 30 and he has yet to hear from the county on his appeal. He said he was told by an employee in the assessor’s office that a reevaluation would be completed by January.

Clark County Assessor Peter Van Nortwick said Friday that people who have a pending appeal don’t get an extension, and any adjustment in property taxes will be applied to second-half taxes. Van Nortwick, who was elected in 2010, said he’s striving to finish assessments earlier to give more time to resolve challenges before taxes are due.

He said most people appeal because they feel their property has been assessed too high; some property owners appeal every year.

Van Nortwick, who supported unsuccessful legislation that would have allowed counties to charge commercial property owners up to $500 to appeal their assessed values, told county commissioners in February that, since taking office, 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.

A filing fee would cut down on the number of automatic appeals and help reimburse the county for its costs, Van Nortwick said.

Commissioners didn’t endorse the legislation, however; Steve Stuart and Marc Boldt agreed with Tom Mielke, who said he didn’t think people should have to pay.

For the purpose of this year’s taxes, the assessed values are based on 2010 sales.

When notices were mailed in October, Van Nortwick said assessment changes varied throughout the county, with some neighborhoods seeing no change or a slight increase. Other neighborhoods saw declines, but not as dramatic as during the recession.

Van Nortwick said he aims to hit 95 to 97 percent of market value. When campaigning in 2010, he criticized the office’s inability to assess properties at 100 percent of market value. According to the Department of Revenue, Clark County at the time was assessing properties at 92 percent of market value, above the state average of 87 percent.

On Friday, Van Nortwick said that a goal of 100 percent of market value means some properties will assessed too high.

In 2011, 1,154 property owners filed challenges, up from 980 owners in 2010 but below the five-year high of 2,588 challenges filed in 2009.

In 2010, 211 appeals went to the Board of Equalization, 24 are still pending, and the rest were settled with the assessor’s office or withdrawn or are still pending.

Lower value, higher rate

Van Nortwick said he’s frequently asked why a decline in value doesn’t translate into a lower tax bill.

Under the budget-based system, if property values go down, tax rates go up. In August, the state Department of Revenue said the average single-family residential property tax bill increased in Clark County from 2010 to 2011 by $134. People in the Battle Ground and Evergreen school districts were hit the hardest because of voter-approved levy increases.

The state also said that a significant drop in property values pushed Clark County to have the highest average property tax levy rate in the state. The average single-family residential property tax bill was $2,707, on point with the statewide average tax bill of $2,718.

Free online option

There are 168,561 property accounts, said Treasurer Doug Lasher, whose office collects property taxes.

Lasher said Friday that 1,100 of those taxpayers have registered to receive property tax billings and make payments online for free using a third-party vendor.

The new method required a legislative fix that was championed in 2010 by Rep. Tim Probst, D-Vancouver and Sen. Craig Pridemore, D-Vancouver.

To sign up, go to http://doxo.com/clarkcounty.

Clark County does let homeowners pay property taxes online via Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and electronic check, but those payments are subject to a nonrefundable convenience fee charged by a third-party payment processor.

Lasher said his office has received a total of 1,235 payments online.

Taxpayers whose bills are not paid through a mortgage company and who do not want to go to the treasurer’s office can pay current tax statements at any Clark County branch of First Independent Bank.

Payment must be accompanied by an original, current statement.

Delinquent taxes must be mailed or brought to the treasurer’s office at the Clark County Public Service Center, 1300 Franklin St.

Mailed tax payments should be sent to Clark County Treasurer, P.O. Box 9808, Vancouver, WA 98666-8808. Payments must be postmarked by April 30.

Duplicate tax statements are available from http://www.clark.wa.gov/treasurer or 360-397-2252.

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com.