By Mary Alice Murphy

[Editor’s Note: The meeting went for a bit more than five hours, with a very short break. Several articles will cover the presentations and the review of the regular agenda, in addition to county and commissioner reports. Part 5 will cover the Grant County 3 percent cap on property taxes.]

At the Grant County Commission work session of Oct.12, 2021, commissioners heard a requested report on the 3 percent cap on residential properties’ tax.

Assessor Raul Turrieta said 43 percent of residential and certified valuations are capped, which the assessor has the authority to do.

Chief Deputy Assessor Matthew James gave the presentation. “Why are only 43 percent capped? We usually change the appraised value after a sale of the property. We will never have 100 percent of the residential properties capped, because some caps go off.”

District 5 Commissioner Harry Browne, who had requested the report, asked if the appraisers go out, do an assessment, “can they then bring a property to market value?”

James replied that could only be done in an increasing market.

“What if it increased more than 3 percent?” Browne asked.

“The appraisal can go either way, but in an appreciating market, the value could go above 3 percent, but the cap can’t,” James said. “We have more than 14,000 residential properties so it is impossible to reappraise every property every year.”

Browne suggested they do about 1,000 a year.

James explained what a cap means. “When you say capped, it’s a tax break to the property owner, even when it’s at market value.”

“We can see as much as a 3 percent raise in value, which reaches the cap,” James said. “Some will not see an increase to 3 percent. We cannot simply put a 3 percent increase on all properties. Say 8,000 are left not capped. Some sell and the tax can be raised. But the 6,500 that don’t sell don’t see an increase.”

Browne said he understands, “but I disagree. Economically, it doesn’t make sense in this market. I can’t see that the ones that don’t sell can’t be raised. All should raise that much.”

James said the main tool for reaching the cap is to take the sales data and determine how it is trending. “It tells us about the market. If your appreciation is more than 3 percent, it can go up only the 3 percent. We are not doing statistical tool assessing yet.”

District 3 Commissioner Alicia Edwards asked: “Why aren’t we there yet?”

James explained that when they used the Triadic system, it didn’t have the capability. Tyler does have the capability, since 2009. “We did bits as we could do it. In 2018, we tried to rebuild the data and clean it up, so we can do models that are defensible. It’s a years-long project, maybe five years.”

Edwards said: “We’re looking at maybe five years for when we can do statistical mass appraisal? That’s the only way we can do an increase without assessing every property?”

“We do regular value maintenance,” James said. “That doesn’t mean we are increasing the caps or revenue.”

Edwards asked if the office had a staff person to get to statistical mass appraisal, “how long would it take?”

James replied it could maybe be done in 3 to 3½ years, “maybe. There is a difference between rebuilding the data and going to statistical mass reappraisal. We need the year the house was built, the square footage, the depreciation. We are working to characterize each model, but we’ve been focusing on cleaning up the data. Once we have clean data, then we need to update the land study around vacant land. It’s difficult, because we don’t share data in this state. We would have to look at neighborhoods.”

Turrieta noted that as they are cleaning up the data, “we are picking up data from Google maps. We then do field visits and comp it out.”

County Manager Tim Zamora asked a “simple question. If my house is valued at $100,000, but not capped at 3 percent. Can you put me at 3 percent cap and reduce it later?”

Turrieta said the state association of county assessors was against a 3 percent cap until a property sells.

“How hard is it to put a 3 percent cap on a property?” Zamora asked.

“By state statute, we cannot go above a 3 percent cap,” James said. “However, at the assessor’s discretion, we can go up to the 3 percent cap.”

Browne asked: “Until a property gets to market value? And then you can’t increase? You could do it, but it’s ethics on one side and it might not be defensible, right? So, there are a lot of challenges.”

“We can’t do it without defensible clean data and statistical mass valuation,” James concluded.

The next article will cover county reports from the work session and regular meeting.


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