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Sticker shock: Idaho property owners react to soaring assessed home values

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Although dollar amounts tend to be highest for property assessments in Ada County, values have increased significantly in several populous counties in Idaho, particularly between 2021 and 2022. (Kelcie Moseley-Morris/Idaho Capital Sun)

Twice as many appeals filed so far in Ada County compared to 2021, assessor says

Shondi Mortimer bought her home in northwest Boise for $289,500 in 2016, when she was still married and pregnant with her sixth child.

Now, as a divorced single parent with three boys still living at home, she received her property tax assessment in the mail that valued her home at $609,700 — up $90,000 just since 2021.

“I looked at it and I was like, ‘Oh holy (expletive),’” Mortimer said.

She’s not the only Ada County resident finding sticker shock with assessment notices. Ada County Assessor Bob McQuade said the median increase for the 2022 tax year is 30%, meaning half of the county’s parcels are higher than that and half are lower. Across all property types, taxable value increased by nearly $27.7 billion this year, after increasing by about $15 billion the year before.

Although dollar amounts tend to be highest for property assessments in Ada County, values have increased significantly in several populous counties in Idaho, particularly between 2021 and 2022. In Canyon County, taxable values of all properties increased by about $10 billion, compared to a $3 billion increase the year before.

Another hot spot of property value increases is in Kootenai County, where taxable values nearly doubled since 2021, from $26.7 billion to close to $47 billion.

Even in eastern Idaho’s Bannock County, a more rural area where taxable values grew by just $500 million from 2019 to 2020, the total taxable value between 2021 and 2022 increased by $2.5 billion. And in Twin Falls County, values increased by 37% in the last year from $7.4 billion to $10.2 billion, after increasing by about $1 billion the year before.

Boise homeowner worries about affordability if taxes increase

Property tax dollars fund things like schools, roads, emergency services, mosquito abatement and city and county government services, and each county in Idaho uses a levy formula to determine the amount of property tax it will collect.

Since property taxes are a local tax, and all of the dollars stay within the city or county, a resident’s taxes may go up or down or stay flat depending on where the home is located. In Mortimer’s case, her assessed value increased from $401,900 in 2019 to $422,900 in 2020, but her taxes dropped by $263.

All of the values can still change until July 1 across Idaho, before the fiscal year ends, but assessment notices were due to be sent to residents in the first week of June. Exact tax increases or decreases will be determined in the meantime as cities and counties set their budgets over the next two weeks.

Mortimer worries about those taxes going up significantly, especially as she deals with lingering fatigue and chest pain from her bout with COVID-19 in 2020. The virus left her bedridden and unable to work for four months, and she had to ask her mortgage company for a forbearance to pause her payments.

The symptoms of long COVID are getting better and she’s able to work full-time, but she’s well aware of how tenuous her situation is.

“As long as I don’t get worse with the COVID (symptoms), I think I’m going to be fine,” Mortimer said. “If I were to get sick again and miss another four months of work, I wouldn’t be.”

McCall retiree blames Idaho Legislature for not finding a solution

In Valley County, where Lori Gibson-Banducci lives as a retiree, her home value increased from $838,000 to $1.1 million over the past year.

Overall, the value of properties across Valley County shot up from $6.3 billion in 2021 to $10.3 billion in 2022, after only increasing by $1 billion from 2020 to 2021.

She said she partly blames the Idaho Legislature for the increases and noted that she wrote her representatives multiple times during the legislative session earlier this year to no avail.

Members of the Idaho Legislature introduced a bill with a goal of decreasing property taxes by raising the sales tax, but it did not receive a hearing in the Senate before the session ended in March. The Legislature also passed one bill in 2021 aimed at decreasing property taxes by targeting and restraining city budgets. While there have been many calls for legislators to pass a bill indexing the homeowner’s exemption to current market values, those efforts have failed. The Legislature did pass a bill in 2021 increasing the exemption from $100,000 to $125,000 as a flat rate, but many lawmakers criticized the bill, saying it didn’t go nearly far enough to help homeowners with tax relief.

“It is really frustrating to me that the Legislature had the opportunity to try and fix this in a broad and substantial way, and they chose to focus on all sorts of other cultural issues that really don’t affect the everyday lives of Idahoans,” Gibson-Banducci said. “And meanwhile, those of us who are property owners or renters are going to pay the price.”

Gibson-Banducci thinks the valuation on her home in the McCall area is probably correct, but she plans to appeal the assessment of her condominium in Boise’s North End neighborhood, which went up 25%. She said the valuation of $421,800 is a much higher amount than comparable units, and she plans to appeal.

That process isn’t easy, she said, because to get the most accurate data, she had to ask a few friends in the real estate business for the price of comparable sales in the right time frame.

“That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me that we have to go through a realtor to get the information,” Gibson-Banducci said.

Idaho is one of 10 states that does not have disclosure laws around real estate transactions, regardless of the type of property. The disclosures that are made are strictly voluntary or available to the assessor’s office through the Intermountain Multiple Listing Service. In Ada County, that amounts to enough data to make accurate appraisals, but it has potentially exacerbated the gap between property tax burdens for residences versus commercial property, for which sales data is much more difficult to obtain.

Assessment appeals high in Treasure Valley counties, low in others

Many more taxpayers in Ada County have appealed their valuation this month than at this time in 2021, according to McQuade. In 2021, 93 residents appealed with the county, the fewest in 22 years. As of Monday, McQuade said 195 residents had appealed. Generally speaking, appeals are successful about 25% of the time, he said, but he’s confident in the accuracy of this year’s valuations based on the available data for residential homes.

In Canyon County, Systems Analyst Steve Onofrei said 818 calls inquiring about property tax assessments have been recorded since the beginning of June, and while the county has received 79 requests to appeal the valuation, only five have been completed so far. Onofrei said those numbers are about average compared to prior years.

Anita Hymas, chief deputy assessor in Bannock County, said the office had fielded 436 calls since June 9, but only about 21 appeals have been filed so far.

“We are really trying to get to a lot of people and help them the best we can; we look over their assessments and make sure they don’t have any errors,” Hymas said.

Higher-end homeowners are the ones who will feel the pinch the most, Hymas said, because the homeowner’s exemption is capped at such a low amount compared to today’s market values.

In Twin Falls County, Assessor Brad Wills said this is the time of year when appeals usually number in the hundreds, but so far the county has only recorded nine formal appeals. Many people are calling with questions, he said, but it hasn’t translated to more appeals.

“We’re finding that a lot of people are upset when they call, but once we talk to them, they understand,” Wills said. “They’re just wanting to make sure we didn’t make a mistake on their one property, that everybody else has experienced a substantial change.”

Counties are required by state law to assess homes at full market value at the time of the appraisal, with a margin of error of 10% above or below market value, which for the 2022 tax year would be based on 2021 numbers. The 2023 tax year will be based on 2022 market values.

That can feel especially confusing as fewer homes are sold in the Treasure Valley area. According to data from Boise Regional Realtors, closed home sales in Ada County fell by 5.8% in May compared to this time last year. Pending sales were also down 12.7% and have declined each month since May 2021.

But that doesn’t mean prices are declining yet. The median sales price for homes in Ada County reached $602,250 in May, an increase of 16.1% compared to May 2021 and a new record.

Meridian city councilor says engaging with budget setting process is important

Meridian City Councilor Luke Cavener grew up in Meridian and distinctly remembers when, as a teenager, he had to stop mowing a neighbor’s lawn because the city raised its water rates, and she couldn’t afford to pay him the $6 he was earning from her anymore. It’s residents like that who he thinks of as the city sets its budget and decides whether to increase its property tax levy rate by the legally permitted 3%, as the City Council will begin to do Thursday night.

Cavener is known as one of the council’s staunchest opponents of property tax increases, and he said he has fielded many calls from residents because he has that reputation among council members.

“Particularly being a community full of young families, anytime a cost increase goes up, that gets passed along. Whether it’s as a homeowner or a renter,” Cavener said. “And as serious as we are about housing affordability, I’m also focused on homeownership affordability.”

He plans to advocate for ways to refrain from taking the 3% increase, even though growth has helped keep the city’s rate low overall, and it’s just one piece of several taxing districts that go into a homeowner’s overall bill.

“There have been years when we’ve taken the full 3% and people’s property taxes from the city standpoint have gone down. There have also been times when we’ve stayed flat and other taxes have gone up,” Cavener said.

Other large cities will also finalize budgets in the coming weeks. The city of Boise will release its proposed budget on Friday, and Nampa will announce its budget on June 27.

Cavener hopes Meridian residents will pay attention to the budgeting process and offer feedback, suggestions and criticisms.

“This is the aspect of government that touches our citizens the most, and we never hear from our community about this,” Cavener said. “We hear when they’re upset when assessments come out, and we hear their frustrations when their property tax bill goes out. We do not hear from them when we’re developing our budget.”