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Property owners react to taxes

by Canda HarbaughWestern News
| November 15, 2009 11:00 PM

The Department of Revenue has received 712 requests countywide for informal property tax reviews – most originating from the Eureka area. That portion of northern Lincoln County saw the largest tax increase, according to a department official.

“On average they (Libby and Troy areas) haven’t seen much of an increase in property taxes,” said Mike Noser, manager of the Department of Revenue offices in Lincoln and Sanders counties. “I would say the average increase is between $50-$60 (annually).”

Northern Lincoln County property taxes have gone up the most overall in the county, Noser said, with the area’s waterfront property seeing the largest increase – properties on Glen Lake, Dickey Lake and Sophie Lake, for example. Noser attributed part of the reason for the increase to Canadians buying property at high prices during the last six-year cycle.  

The state sent out new property tax assessments on Sept. 11 based on property sales between 2002 and 2008. Statewide, property taxes shot up the most in Flathead and Lake counties, resulting in about 7,600 informal tax review requests in Flathead County and 2,300 requests in Lake County.

Some news sources reported that residential taxable values in Lincoln County had gone up 75 percent. Noser has not seen a number that high and doesn’t know where it originated, but emphasized that property tax is not determined solely by a property’s value.

“A lot of people were under the assumption that if their taxable values doubled, their taxes would double,” Noser said. “… Nine times out of 10, yes, the value did go up, but the taxes really haven’t changed that much.”

The Department of Revenue office in Lincoln County has also received double the number of property tax assistance program forms than it did last year, even though the deadline to turn in the form isn’t until spring. Noser attributes the increase partly to the fact that information about it was printed on this year’s assessment notice.

“I think, for that reason, more people are aware of it,” he said. “Also, with the way the economy is going with loss of jobs, more people qualify.”

Noser pointed out that the state legislation has made some changes to alleviate higher taxes stemming from value increases. State legislators will review property sales now through 2010, and if there is a substantial drop in value, Noser said, they plan to adjust 2011 tax notices. 

In order to have their protest affect this year’s taxes, property owners had to have acted within 30 days of receiving their assessment notices, which were mailed out two months ago. The process began for most by filling out an informal review request at the Department of Revenue. The agency will in the coming months meet with owners and review their property and either make a tax adjustment or deny the request.

Unsatisfied property owners will then have the option to take their protest to the County Tax Review Board, a three-person volunteer group with members representing Libby, Troy and Eureka. Six property owners – four from Eureka, one from Libby and one from Troy – so far opted to skip the Department of Revenue step and go straight to the board with their protests, according to Jill Blomdahl, secretary for the County Tax Appeal Board.

The board will hear from the property owners and state tax assessors before making a decision. Unsatisfied property owners would then have the option to take their case to the State Tax Appeal Board.