State issues report on county assessors’ workloads/appeals

The Washington State Department of Revenue has issued its annual comparison of county assessor statistics.

Property tax assessments were the subject of a recent debate between Port Orchard mayoral candidates Tim Matthes and incumbent Lary Coppola.

Topics that have surfaced during the debate include:
a. the accuracy and fairness of Kitsap County Assessor’s property valuations.
b. the possibility of a class action lawsuit on behalf of commercial property owners whose assessed values increased sharply.
c. the possibility of changing appeal laws/procedures to reduce the burden of proof on the property owner.

If either b. or c. goes anywhere, I’ll be following up on it. As for a., if I’m interpreting the DOR analysis correctly, it appears Kitsap County’s success rate/satisfied customer rate — judging from the percentage of appeals per properties assessed — is better the state average.

Now for the qualifying statement. Mike Gowrylow, DOR spokesman, specifically states in his press release, “Washington’s thirty-nine county assessors operate within unique local geographical, political, and economic environments that often influence the attributes of a county’s assessment system and the level of services they provide. Consequently, making direct comparisons between individual counties may result in distorted or misleading conclusions unless additional information is considered or more in-depth analysis is conducted.”

And yet, the report “is intended to provide property tax administrators and decision-makers with a uniform set of comparative statistics to assist in the analysis and evaluation of assessment operations and the adequacy of assessment resources.”

Also note: the numbers counties reported for their budgets, FTE levels, and appeals were as of a specific point in time (March 2011) and may have changed since then. The report also tallies assessed values, number of parcels, new construction, number of appeals and other relevant figures.

Kitsap County in 2010 had a total of 112,218 parcels and a total assessed value of nearly $28.2 billion ($28,158,972,045) representing 3.48 percent of the all-county total AV. Commercial properties (46 in manufacturing, 4,416 in commercial use) make up 4 percent of the total number of properties.

Kitsap’s average value per parcel is $246,986. The straight up state average for counties like Kitsap that do annual assessments is $177,056. The statewide weighted mean, in which data are given weighted values for a more statistically accurate description, is $256,918.

The DOR analysis looked at workloads based on staffing and number of parcels assessed. The Kitsap Assessor’s office lost 2.9 percent of its staffing between 2009 and 2010; the drop was 7.2 percent between 2010 and 2011. Statewide staffing decreases varied widely, with a number of counties showing no change between 2010 and 2011. Lincoln County’s staffing decreased by 20 percent. At the other end of the spectrum, San Juan County increased its staffing by 16.5 percent.

Looking at number of inspections per appraiser, Kitsap was about in the middle of the pack with 1,255. Douglas County had the heaviest load with 3,663. Garfield County had the lightest, with 302.

Check out page 36 of the document for a report of the number of appeals each county had in 2009 and 2010. Kitsap had 615 in 2009, with 64 appeals going to the Washington State Board of Tax Appeals. Kitsap in 2010 had 573, with 1 going to the BTA.

Statewide appeal totals were 35,162 county-level appeals in 2009, 3,480 BTA appeals in 2009, 24,299 county-level appeals in 2010 and 1,002 BTA appeals in 2010.

Looking at the percentage of appeals compared to the total of non-exempt parcels, Kitsap’s appeal rate was .55 percent for 2009 and .51 percent in 2010 among counties that assess annually (13 counties assess cyclically, less frequently than each year). The 2009 state average is .80 percent and the state weighted mean is 1.33 percent. Looking at the 2010 appeal rate, we’ve got .61 percent average statewide and a statewide weighted mean of .84 percent.

So Kitsap did better than average in 2009 and 2010, and quite a bit better than the statewide weighted mean in those years. I’m guessing that’s cold comfort to those who saw large jumps in assessment in those years.

Kitsap County does a detailed assessment, with a visual inspection of the property, every six years. Complaints typically result when the detailed inspection results in a jump in property value, as properties that have, according to the assessor’s office, been undervalued are brought into line with current comparable assessments.

The law states the assessor must value properties at “True and fair value,” which “means market value and is the amount of money a buyer of property willing but not obligated to buy would pay a seller of property willing but not obligated to sell, taking into consideration all uses to which the property is adapted and might in reason be applied.” The law goes on, “In determining true and fair value, the assessor may use the sales (market data) approach, the cost approach, or the income approach, or a combination of the three approaches to value.”

So, I’ll leave you with a question or two or three, “How (if at all) would you change the law on assessments, and why?”

“How, if at all, would you change the law on appeals, which currently requires the property owner to show ‘clear, cogent and convincing evidence’ the assessor is wrong?”

“What, if anything, do you think could a class action lawsuit on behalf of property owners who feel they’ve been unfairly assessed could accomplish?”

Thanks for your thoughts. Chris Henry, reporter

3 thoughts on “State issues report on county assessors’ workloads/appeals

  1. Assessors are NOT appraisers! They do a “mass appraisal” using specifically designed softwar. They do NOT consider the three approachs to value that an Appraiser must consider. They do NOT follow the Rules set for by USPAP-Uniform Standars of Professional Appraisal Practices. If you live in an area with a mixture of medium and high value homes your taxes are going to be higher on those medium value homes. Why? Because of their software. If you live in a 1200 sqft one story your R.E. market is for SIMILIAR one story homes 800-1600 sqft. However, their software will take into consideration that 3,200 sqft basement veiw home that sold for $625,000 as part of their areas value model for YOUR taxes.

  2. Thanks for reporting on this Chris. Derek Kilmer asked me a year ago what could be done legislatively to mitigate the large value increases and associated tax shifts caused by zoning changes. I suggested he might want to look at RCW 84.36.400 as a guide for legislative relief. This statute loosely called the remodel exemption defers assessed value increases to single family dwellings, caused by remodeling, for three years.–Jim Avery

  3. Jaydee – I’d be interested to know more about the steps appraisers take to determine the market value of a home or business.

    Chris Henry, reporter

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