Commission to tackle property values

“It’s the death of Main Street in Blanding and Monticello is what it is,” said Commissioner Phil Lyman regarding continually increasing property values and tax costs to citizens and businesses at the April 23 meeting of the San Juan County Commission.
Commissioner Bruce Adams agreed wholeheartedly with Lyman that a change must be made regarding property assessment and taxes to the citizens of San Juan County.
The comments came following a statement read by Lyman during the previous week’s commission meeting regarding the ever-increasing property values and increased property taxes to the citizens and businesses in San Juan County and calling for change.
“I’m not finger pointing at any individual or any person,” said Lyman. “I want to see this county change it’s ways; not because I hate the county but because I love the county. This is my home, this is what’s important to me... I’m not trying to pull down anything or attack anybody, that’s not my purpose in any way. I respect the people that have done this and the efforts that have been made.”
Lyman said he would like to see the county use ingenuity, creativity and resourcefulness and find a better way to run the county than through increased taxes.
Lyman presented numbers of property values and tax rates from Kane County that show a huge increase in values in that county before a significant drop over two years.
Lyman said that Kane County property values have dropped 42 percent since 2007 for a primary residence, while San Juan County has risen by 35 percent in the same time period. “There is something wrong with that in a declining housing market to see your values going up and up,” said Lyman.
Commissioner Bruce Adams agreed with Lyman that there are grounds to challenge the valuation of property in the county, stating that an appraisal should be what a willing buyer and a willing seller agree to as the price of a piece of property and not what an outside appraiser from Salt Lake City says it’s worth.
County resident Marilyn Boynton, who requested the item be placed on the agenda for discussion, said that “ every part of government wants to help people.” She suggested that the county start assessing property more regularly than every five years in order to eliminate the large changes at one time rather than increasing them incrementally over time.
Boynton also suggested the possible use of different assessment tools such as those used in Utah County through aerial photography to allow the assessor to see where property has changed or grown. Boynton questioned if the county assessor is getting timely data from the cities so he can keep up with building in the county.
Adams said that the assessors office currently does the assessment of property on a five year cycle, with different areas completed each year. Adams said Washington County used to do assessment every five years but changed because there often are huge changes over that period of time.
Adams said Millard County reports similar problems and had help from Washington County to fix some of the issues. While San Juan County Assessor Howard Randall has stated he is not qualified to assess commercial property, Adams said that the Kane County Assessor said no special training is required and any assessor can do a commercial assessment.
Adams said that the commission has no legal basis to go in and lower property values across the board, but they can help through their function as the Board of Equalization. Adams suggested that the commission be more proactive in educating the public regarding the Board of Equilization.
County Clerk Norman Johnson suggested that in order for the public to be more involved in the BOE system, the commission should consider holding hearings in various areas of the county to make it easier for people to attend.
Lyman responded by saying, “I believe citizens should be educated and informed and passionate about it, but I also believe elected officials should be vigilant in protecting the rights of the citizens.”
Lyman said that “when we start talking about Board of Equalization and commercial appraisers licenses and certified rates . . . it feels like a smoke screen to me because what I have seen is taxes go up and up and up. I’ve seen the county budget expand, I’ve seen the school district budget expand and I haven’t seen a population growing, so when the commission has the opportunity to lower the tax rate and they choose to go with the certified rate it seems like that is speaking louder than board of equalization.
“The increases come in like a tidal wave and you throw them out with a bucket in the board of equalization. I want a sweeping reduction in the values or a sweeping reduction in the rate. “
Adams said that in his seven years on the commission he has made a concentrated effort to not impose his decision on anyone, but has sought the input of the staff and other commissioners to find solutions as a group.
“I have tried to work within this body and the staff and come up with a decision that was collectively a unanimous decision. Once in a while, and it’s very seldom, that we don’t have a unified decision on the commission,” said Adams.
He suggested that everyone weigh in and work together and try to solve the problem that exists, including working with state legislators to try and effect change in the law because of the unfairness that exists in assessment.
Lyman said there are things that can be done. Adams suggested asking for help from counties who have already addressed the problem and have expressed being willing to help San Juan County.
“Lets start by trying to enlist the help of some other counties. Kane County lowered their values, Millard County lowered their values, Washington County lowered their values. We need to know how they did effectively did that,” said Adams.
The county will draft letters to several counties seeking assistance.  “I think there are things that we can do and we have to do those things,” said Lyman, “that’s all part of this process. Everyone has got to take notice of this. I don’t want to be on the side of trying to defend the system which has not served the people. I want to be on the side of the people.”

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