Property owners disagree with city over tax assessments

Officials say trend is putting taxes in line with market values

Posted: Thursday, April 14, 2005

Property owners throughout Juneau are complaining of skyrocketing tax assessments this month, and dozens have appealed to the city.

City officials and real estate agents say the upward trend in assessed value is just putting tax bills more in line with actual market values.

Thomas Fowlkes is among those who disagree with that theory. He was shocked when he got his assessment notice on Friday.

The city assessor estimates his two-bedroom, one-bath home on Cohen Drive at $302,600. His land assessment has increased by $25,000 and his house assessment by $13,000 since last year.

"I doubt that my house could be sold for that much," said Fowlkes, who has lived in it for 10 years. "The city seems to want more and more and more. This is absolutely out of hand."

Since the city sent out 12,669 assessment notices April 5, about 60 property owners have appealed to the city assessor's office. May 5 is the last day to appeal an assessment.

Depending on the neighborhood, assessment values of the city's residential properties have gone up by as much as 25 percent.

Juneau real estate broker Tom Kohan said he wasn't surprised to see the dramatic increase in property assessments because in the past they have been much lower than market value. Kohan said he was surprised to see how closely the assessments are approaching fair market value.

"I guess it may have something to do with the fact that the assessor has been in the private sector for a few years before taking this job," said Kohan, who has been selling real estate since 1985. "His exposure to the market makes him more in tune with what is going on."

The city's new assessor, James Canary, worked as an appraiser for the city between 1990 and 2002. He also owns a private real estate appraisal business, assessing properties throughout Southeast Alaska. When he left the city in 2002, he went to work as assessor for the city of Petersburg.

Canary, who took the Juneau job in August, said his office is just bringing the properties closer to their market value.

"We look at the sale prices of properties in a neighborhood," Canary said. "But that doesn't mean we assess people's property at the top market value."

The city only increased the assessed values of properties worth between $125,000 and $324,000 in 2004 by 10 percent, even though their market values increased by 12 percent.

The assessed values of properties that were worth between $100,000 and $124,900 in 2004 have gone up by 20 percent, although the actual market values increased by 25 percent.

The length of time a person has owned a piece of property also makes a difference.

"The appreciation rate of properties that were acquired within eight months is 1 percent per month," Canary said. "For properties that were bought more than eight months ago, the appreciation rate is even higher."

Canary said Juneau's lack of land contributes to its high property values.

"The price of land is extremely expensive because of that," Canary said. "We are not trying to increase the property tax. It is not my job. My job is to evaluate properties at their fair market values."

Some real estate agents say they don't think the increase in property assessment will affect Juneau's real estate market.

"The assessor doesn't set the market," Kohan said. "The sellers set the market."

Higher property assessments don't necessarily translate into higher property taxes.

The city is considering lowering the mill rate. The Assembly will adopt the 2005 property tax mill rate by June 15.

Property owners who are still not satisfied with their property assessment can appeal to the assessor's office. If they remain dissatisfied after the assessor checks their property, they can contest the assessment at a hearing before the Board of Equalization May 19.

John French, who has owned a single-family home in Douglas for 20 years, went to the assessor's office Wednesday to question the assessment of his house. The assessment values of his property increased by $72,000 in a year.

"It's not like our wages have gone up at the same time," French said. "I am not a financial wizard or a real estate agent. But the increase seems too high."

Fowlkes said although he is not going to appeal, he still feels upset about the increase.

"How far do you have to pull your belt in to live here?" Fowlkes asked. "The city is running people out of town."

• I-Chun Che can be reached at ichun.che@juneauempire.com.



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