Tax assessments soaring

Property owners see an average 15 percent increase; 55 of them appeal

Posted: Thursday, April 13, 2006

At least 55 Juneau property owners have appealed ballooning tax assessments this month after another year of staggering increases.

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The city sent out thousands of assessment notices at the beginning of the month. City officials say the increase in assessed value puts tax bills more in line with market values, while property owners fear more taxes.

The city is required by state law to follow specific procedures and write up assessments that reflect the market, Assessor James Canary said. He said assessment values of the city's residential properties have gone up by as much as 25 percent, but the average increase is 15 percent - just less than last year's average of 16 percent.

"The waterfront properties really went up, but on average there is slightly less of an increase overall than last year," Canary said. "The assessments are all over the board."

Kirk Miller was astounded when he received his 2006 property tax assessment at 17330 Point Lena Loop Road. It reported a $52,000 increase from 2005, and a $92,400 increase from 2004.

"We constructed our house in 2000 using nearly every penny of our savings and a lot of sweat equity," Miller said.

Miller, president of the Lena Extended Neighborhood Association, said his property assessment has increased 60 percent and he is now paying $1,383 more in property taxes over a five-year period. His family of four lives in a 1,300-square-foot home with three tiny bedrooms, one-and-a-half baths and no garage and it is not on the water, he said.

"Perhaps I should feel lucky. Some of my neighbors have seen increases of over $100,000 in this year," Miller said.

With increased living costs such as for fuel, Miller said he is about tapped out. Assuming a 2005 mill rate of 11.17, Miller said he will need to pay an additional $581 in taxes this year.

"Unfortunately, I did not get a $581 raise this year at work, nor am I eligible for a raise until 2008 at my current place of employment," Miller said. "I cannot fathom why the city would endeavor to fuel the current real estate frenzy by assessing property at such high levels."

Higher property assessments don't necessarily translate into higher property taxes, City Manager Rod Swope said. Swope proposes a 0.33-mill decrease for the 2007 fiscal year budget.

"If additional money comes from the state we could further reduce the mill levee," Swope said. "People may forget over 50 percent of property within the city is tax-exempt, including federal, city, state and nonprofit lands, and as a result taxpayers are paying for services that are nontaxable."

The city would have an additional revenue of $1.5 million if the mill was not decreased, Swope said. The total current mill rate is 11.17. That amounts to $1,117 per $100,000 of assessed value.

"It appears that we are well on our way to driving out the common folk from this community if property values and associated taxes continue to increase at the present rate," Miller said. "We are well on our way to becoming a community of haves and have-nots."

Assembly member Jonathan Anderson said he understands the community's problems with the skyrocketing assessments. He said the potential incorporation of a mill-rate deduction into the proposed budget will be scrutinized closely by the Assembly, which is sympathetic but required to tackle many projects in need of funding, he said.

"We understand there is a tax burden," Anderson said. "With that said, we are also figuring how to get city projects completed while contemplating other issues, like the senior sales-tax exemption, among others."

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