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2011-08-04 10:27:31
Property tax trouble: Can you fight city hall?

Property tax trouble: Can you fight city hall?

August 4th, 2011 @

By Randall Jeppesen

SALT LAKE CITY -- For three years in a row,
the average homeowner saw property values drop in Salt Lake County. At the same
time, many are paying higher taxes. If you think your property value and taxes
are way off, how do you go about fixing it?

Homeowners should have received a letter from
the county assessor's office saying how much their homes are worth and the
property tax due. Chief Deputy at the Salt Lake County Assessor's Office, Kevin
Jacobs, says the property value drop countywide is around 2.5 percent.

'The biggest decrease this year was in
the southwest area, Bluffdale, Riverton, South Jordan. Those areas went down
about 5 percent,' said Jacobs.

Values drop, but not necessarily taxes

That doesn't mean taxes dropped. Utah law says
cities, counties, and school districts get a set amount of revenue from
property tax each year no matter what happens to property values.

'When (property) values decrease the tax
rate is allowed to rise so the same amount of money is generated,' Jacobs
explained. Local governments can rely on that constant source of revenue,
unlike sales tax, which can fluctuate and drop off when the economy slows.

Realtors also keep close tabs on property
values. Dave Anderton, communications director with the Salt Lake Board of
Realtors, said they've seen home values drop slightly more on average than the
assessors have. He figures the drop is more like 3 to 4 percent, and he doesn't
see that stopping in the short term.

2011 Market Value

'For six months of this year we are still
seeing home prices fall,' said Anderton.

Anderton does point to some positive signs.
Home sales are starting to stabilize. He expects the number of homes sold in
the second half of the year will improve over last year once the figures aren't
compared to numbers from when the federal tax credit was offered to home

He also says the number of realtors leaving
the profession has stabilized and he thinks has bottomed out. A stable number of
realtors indicates people are willing to buy, but most of the buying is being
spurred on by incredible deals offered through foreclosures and short sales.

Some property values increasing

Not every neighborhood in Salt Lake County is
declining in property value. Values have been increasing in patches of areas,
mostly on the east benches.

'If we don't push
back as citizens I think we are doing an injustice to us all.' - Brent

Brent Nielsen finds himself in a somewhat
different situation. His house is more than 20 years old, but new, expensive
homes are going up not too far away. His property taxes have skyrocketed well
beyond what he thinks is reasonable.

A letter from the county assessor's office
last year said his property value rose by over 60 percent and his taxes went up
88 percent. Nielsen says the new homes are in secluded areas by a golf course
while his house is along a busy street, and their values should not be similar.

He appealed to the county and the property
value was lowered. But Nielsen says it wasn't lowered nearly enough, so he
appealed to the state. That process was finalized six weeks ago when the judge
ordered the value to be set at what Nielsen had been asking for all along.

'If we don't push back as citizens I
think we are doing an injustice to us all,' said Nielsen.

Summary from
assessor's office

  • 92% of Salt Lake
    County properties have assessed values lower than their 2010 value, and many
    increases are due to new growth.

  • In order to maintain
    the same services of the past year, the tax rate must increase.

  • If your value
    decreased more than the average decrease in value within your taxing entity,
    you should see a tax decrease.

  • If your value
    decreased less than the average decrease in value, you should see a tax

Source: Salt Lake
County Assessor's Office

However Nielsen's home value process isn't
over. He just received this year's assessment, and since it was set last
January before the appeal to the state was finalized, he'll have to appeal
again to have it lowered to the amount the judge agreed on.

The appeal process involves downloading a form
from the county assessor's office and filling out what you feel your home is
worth. Then you attach documentation to support your numbers, through either an
appraisal or by showing comparative prices of homes that recently sold in the

Appeals work, even if they take time

'Most people who come in and appeal see a
decrease,' said Jacobs. 'I would say 75 percent of the people see a

Jacobs said this year the office hasn't seen a
rush of people trying to appeal like it saw a few years ago, but appeals likely
will continue until the deadline of Sept. 15.

Jacobs said employees in the assessor's office
do the best they can at mass appraisals, but he knows they aren't perfect and
sometimes corrections are needed. He too hopes the economy turns a corner soon
and property values start moving back up.


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