County flooded by tax appeals

"Island County is struggling to handle all the appeals of property valuations made by the Assessor's Office.Assessor Tom Baenen said there are easily double the number of appeals this year compared to last.Property taxes are based on valuations, which were sent to property owners last October. Baenen said the hot real estate market on the mainland caught up with us. Because of those increased valuations, the county was flooded by appeals.Betty Kemp, director of general services, said 1,700 appeals were filed. Some of those were withdrawn early, but 1,472 were entered into the computer with hearing dates set.Last year, Kemp said, there were only about 500 appeal dates set, which she describes as not bad at all.Not all 1,472 hearings will be conducted, Kemp said. The property owners and Assessor's Office in some cases reach a stipulation in which both sides agree on a new value. Others may look at comparable sales and agree that the assessor was correct. We're hoping two or three hundred will drop out, Kemp said. There's such a vast number.The hearings are conducted by the Island County Board of Equalization, a panel of citizens who began meeting in January. Baenen said last week that about 100 appeals had been heard.As a rule, Baenen said, about one-third of appellants receive some relief from the board in the form of reduced valuation. Those who are not satisfied may appeal to the state level.Baenen said many property owners were surprised by the increased valuations they received last October. Perhaps that's because they didn't immediately feel the effects of the booming Puget Sound real estate market. We're about a year and a half behind the mainland, he said.The county is facing a timing problem as well. Computer and other problems resulted in the valuations being sent out several months late in 1999. Now, because of all the appeals, the hearing may not be finished before the new valuations are mailed sometime next summer -- and people start appealing again.We're going to have a double whammy this year, Kemp said.Board openings pay $100 dailyIsland County is seeking applicants from Whidbey and Camano islands to fill two vacancies on the Board of Equalization, which decides on property valuation appeals.Applicant qualifications include: Must be county resident; shall neither be a holder of public office nor an employee of any elected official; and may not have been employed by the Island County Assessor within the previous two years.Board members are paid $100 per day during active service. Newly appointed members must complete the required training course within one year of appointment.Send letters of interest to: Board of Island County Commissioners, PO BOX 5000, Coupeville Wa 98230. Letters must be received by March 31. To ask questions, call Betty Kemp, 321-5111."

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