Borough assessors will be scoping out properties in the Anchor Point, Deep Creek, Ninilchik, Clam Gulch and Kasilof areas this year.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assessing Departmentrotates field canvassing assessments around the peninsula on a regular basis, checking on major changes affecting property value, like the addition of a garage or shed. Last year, they canvassed Homer, Funny River and all the islands in the Kenai River.
The department is supposed to stick to a five-year reassessment schedule, per an assembly resolution in 2003. However, that’s been a struggle, said Borough Assessor Tom Anderson in a budget presentation to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on May 1.
“At this point in time, I think it’s not realistic,” he said. “As long as I’ve been here in this job, we’ve never come close to a five-year reassessment cycle. But we are getting more efficient year after year. We have made some progress … we’re closing in on six years.”
There are more parcels in the borough every year as large parcels are subdivided and sold, each requiring an assessment. The assessing department staff reevaluates property values each year and adjusts taxes for property owners’ tax bills annually, but the canvassing visits are supposed to be done regularly to catch major changes.
To save time, the department has been looking at using new technology to speed up data entry and processing. Right now, the appraisers fill out paperwork about the properties and bring it back to data entry clerks, who process the information and upload it electronically. The appraiser reviews the information to make sure it’s correct before finalizing it, but with so many steps, there is a chance for errors to occur, Anderson said.
“Basically, we’re trying to find an application we can use on the iPad tablets that will allow us to collect data in the field electronically on the tablet,” he said.
Finding a technological solution would save time and allow for better quality control, he said. The appraisers would still have to visit properties, but it would allow them to avoid doing everything on paper, he said.
The assessing department also had to deal with some upheaval this year with people challenging property assessments in Homer. After tax bills arrived March 1, hundreds of people in the Homer area appealed their assessments, saying the borough had overvalued many properties. The Board of Equalization, the citizen board that arbitrates property value disputes, is still resolving some of the appeals and currently plans to meet June 12–16 in Homer.
Anderson said the only thing that changed in the assessing department’s formula was a slight increase in the percentage of value accounted for, from 95 percent to 98 percent. That’s not enough to account for some of the jumps that people saw on their properties, but many didn’t see massive increases, he said. Many did, but others saw a decrease and others stayed the same, he said.
Borough Mayor Mike Navarre traveled to Homer in late April to address concerns about the assessments and put some blame on Alaska’s law as a nondisclosure state. State law does not require property sale price to be reported, so the borough assessing department does not have automatic access to comprehensive information about the real estate market to evaluate properties. Realtors have access to that information, but voluntarily disclose it to either individuals or the borough.
During the assembly’s budget hearing, Navarre said the assessments could be more accurate if the state were full-disclosure.
“If all of the sales data was reported, it would be much, much easier for us to sort of calibrate the models and make adjustments, but that’s not the case,” he said. “We’re basing on sales data that is sketchy, I would say, at best.”
The assessing department does send out surveys about property sales, but only a portion of them are returned, Anderson said.
Another place the non-disclosure law impacted was the land purchases in Nikiski for the state’s planned Alaska LNG Project. Since 2014, negotiators have been working to purchase approximately 800 acres near the bluff in Nikiski for a planned natural gas liquefaction plant, the terminus of a theoretical 800-mile pipeline from the North Slope to monetize the gas that is currently reinjected into wells there. As the management team has bought up land, the prices have remained secret, leading to questions from those whose property has not been purchased yet and concerns about property assessments in Nikiski in the future, if high purchase prices push up the market value of the residential parcels nearby.
Anderson clarified to the assembly that the assessing department had not received any information about those sale prices and likely wouldn’t consider them anyway because they are not considered “arm’s length transactions.”
“An arm’s-length transaction is between a willing buyer and a willing seller and with adequate exposure on the open marketplace,” he said. “I think in the case of those AKLNG purchases, that’s a highly motivated buyer, for one thing, and I believe they were just directly negotiated between the property owner and the buyer … without having seen the details of any of those transactions, my first impression would be that I wouldn’t consider those sales to be arm’s-length transactions.”
This year, the assessing department plans to put out notices letting property owners in Anchor Point, Kasilof and the other areas know that appraisers will be visiting the properties. The appraisers have the right to go onto people’s lands without permission, but they try to be as courteous as possible and let residents know what they are doing there, Anderson said. Most of the time, property owners are cooperative, and the staff members try to be clear about who they are, he said.
“We try to be as visible and transparent as possible,” he said.
Reach Elizabeth Earl at firstname.lastname@example.org.