Land value hikes shock some land owners

Land assessments double or triple what they were a year ago have sent some people scurrying to the Island County Assessor’s Office to complain.

Assessor Tom Baenen mailed out thousands of revaluation notices, which most property owners received early this month.

Among those unpleasantly surprised was Ross Portmann, whose no-view house is located on North Bluff Road above the Greenbank Farm. The value of the land on which his house sits increased from $45,000 last year to $117,000 this year. The house itself went down in value, according to his re-valuation notice.

“One way or another they’re going to get enough money to keep the county from sinking,” Portmann said, alluding to the county’s budget problems.

Karlene Izenhower lives in the Heart’s Rest development south of Coupeville, and her land assessment more than doubled, from $49,682 a year ago to $103,600 this year.

Izenhower, like Portmann, suspects the county’s money problems are to blame, particularly in the wake of I-747 which limits tax increases by district to 1 percent annually. “Maybe this is their way of making sure they have everything jacked up before they can only charge 1 percent,” she said.

One of Izenhower’s neighbors, Kathleen Gross, also saw her property double in value. “It’s just a bunch of rocks — no view,” she said.

Assessor Baenen such such steep valuation increases could be due to a number of factors, most importantly recent sales of comparable pieces of property. But it’s not because of the county’s budget woes. He is charged by state law with appraising property at its fair market value.

Baenen said state law also requires that the land and improvements on the land be assessed separately. He said the county’s population has increased greatly in recent years and there is less undeveloped land and lots available, thus existing lots are increasing in value. “Built up demand increases values, and there’s less undeveloped land to compare,” he said.

However, doubling and tripling of lot values is not typical. The total assessed value of property in Island County increased by 6.5 percent this year compared to last, which translates into a total valuation increase of $400 million. “It’s big money,” Baenen said.

Baenen added that the number of revaluation complaints is about the same this year as in prior years, and as always he’s set aside extra time for his staff to meet with concerned property owners.

Eight appraisers have been meeting with property owners, with a 20-minute time limit on each meeting. If the property owner gives the appraiser good reason to thing a revaluation may be inaccurate, a new valuation will be ordered. Appeals for the first revaluation notices must be made by Dec. 28.

Property owners who are not satisfied with their valuations after talking to an appraiser may appeal to the Board of Equalization. The board will convene next July 15 and continue meeting until all appeals are settled.

Appraisers are on Camano Island this week talking to property owners. Hours are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily at the Terry Corner Fire Station.

Taxpayers with questions about their revaluations may call 679-7303 from North and Central Whidbey; (360)321-555 from South Whidbey; or (360)629-4522 from Camano Island.

Or, stop by the Assessor’s Office in the Courthouse in Coupeville from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. week days.

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