Board gives thumbs up, down to property owners' objections

Eleven out of 38 residents get a break

Posted: Tuesday, May 23, 2000

The Greens Creek Mine asked the Juneau Assembly for a break of a couple of million dollars on its assessed valuation of $38 million Monday night. The assembly was sitting as the Board of Equalization and judging Juneau residents and businesses that were taking a last stand against what the city assessor said their properties are worth.

Among the approximately 14,500 property assessments the city sent out earlier this year, 492 were the subject of contention between the owners and the city assessor.

After dickering with the assessor's office, most owners cut a deal. But 38 stood adamant and appealed to the Board of Equalization to give them a break. Eleven of them -- though not Greens Creek -- got it.

``The Greens Creek rationale was reclamation, work that they need to do when the mine eventually shuts down,'' said assembly member Jim Powell. ``They wanted credit, and under state law we can't do that.''

What the board could and did do was give the occasional break to appellants burdened this year with big increases in the valuation of their waterfront properties -- at least, to those appellants who had a solid rationale.

``When the valuation goes up $50,000 or $100,000 in a year, we look at it,'' Powell said. ``We try to moderate the dramatic increase.''

But the rationale has to be there.

In Frank Gorham's case, the successful rationale for getting a break on his Lena Point beachfront property was noise -- from a nearby quarry and from the landing and takeoff of a telecommunications company's helicopters some 200 feet from his property line.

``(The city) wanted $175,000 for the land value, and I wanted $144,000 -- which was still a rise from last year's $120,000,'' Gorham said this morning.

Other beachfront property owners explained that their view wasn't as good as the neighbor's -- and was therefore worth less -- or that a public easement ran down the side of the property. Reductions in those valuations ranged to $50,000. At the city's current real estate tax rate of $1,222 per $100,000 valuation, a $50,000 evaluation reduction means a savings to the owner of $611 annually.

Of the city's total $2.3 billion valuation, preliminary indications are that reductions will amount to between $30 million and $50 million, said city Finance Director Craig Duncan.

That would mean between $360,000 and $600,000 less revenue for the city than if there had been no downward adjustments.

``Last night's was one of the best boards of equalization, from the perspective of the quality of presentations given by the assessor,'' Duncan said. ``This is the first year we used overhead maps, (comparative) sales and market analysis data. The process was more concise, easier to follow.''

Mayor Dennis Egan agreed, but repeated his long-held objection to the current makeup of the board. ``Larger communities and others -- Fairbanks, Anchorage, Kenai, Kodiak -- have adopted boards of equalization made up of professionals: architects, CPAs, realtors, engineers,'' he said.

Such a group would be able to make decisions ``totally removed from the political element,'' Egan said.

An objection that has been voiced is that a professional board would remove the human element from the process, he said. ``Well, sometimes the human element is wrong.''

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