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Initiative prompts tax notice changes

"It may take more than a casual assessment of your annual assessment this year. That's because the final decision on how much your property is worth for tax purposes in 2001 may have to come from a court of law.Property assessment statements, otherwise known as the Assessor's Notice of Change of Value, will be mailed to Island County landowners Thursday. In addition to the usual figures showing your property's assessed and market value for the current year and the previous year, the new forms will have two new classifications - previous limited assessed value and new limited assessed value.Island County Assessor Tom Baenen said the reason for the added figures is Initiative 722, which was passed by voters earlier this month. I-722 put a limit on both the maximum value of a piece of property, returning to 1998-1999 levels, and on the rate of increase (2 percent or less) in its value. As a result, the previous limited assessed value figure represents the property's assessed value from two years ago rather than last year. The new limited assessed value number shows that same previous value with a 2 percent increase.If I-722 becomes law in December, your property tax levy rate for the coming year will be calculated based on the new limited assessed value. But there's still a question as to whether the implementation of I-722 will be delayed by court action or whether the entire initiative will be thrown out as unconstitutional. The initiative's numerous layers covering everything from assessment rates to fee increases could make it a sitting duck when held up to the state's constitution, which forbids including multiple subjects in a single measure. If I-722 is ultimately tossed, local tax levy rates will be based on the new assessed value figure on the form rather than the limited value. The new assessed value is what you are used to seeing on your annual statements. It's the figure Island County assessors have determined to be the current worth of your property based on its true and fair value using real estate sales and listings of similar properties, personal inspections, remodeling, additions or other improvements as guides. In the past, Island County property values have been known to increase by as much as 60 percent or drop by 30 percent in a single year. Normally however, changes stay in the single-digit range. Baenen said there is a big difference between what his office has determined to be the true value of property in Island County and the maximum allowed under I-722. Using their regular system of assessment, the total value of all classifications of property in Island County is about $7.68 billion, said Baenen. I-722 drops the total to $7.16 billion. In other words about a half billion dollars of tax base is lost if I-722 becomes law he said.The same holds true for new construction values which are also limited under I-722. Baenen estimates there will be about $4 million worth of tax base lost there.The result will be a shift in the tax burden, Baenen said. Those who normally see a large increase in their property values will get the most benefit from I-722. Since the amount of increased value has a lid on it, they will shoulder less of the tax load than they normally would. Since the overall cost of running government is not going down, those people who's property sees little increase from year to year will have to pick up the slack. They will pay a higher share of taxes under I-722.Taxpayers have 30 days in which to appeal their property valuation with the Island County Board of Equalization. Assessor's office staff are also available during the 30-day period to answer questions or discuss concerns. Hours are from 8:30 a.m. to noon and from 12:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. The Board of Equalization can be reached at 679-7379 and the Assessor at 321-5111. "

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