Jodi and Erik Painter could not believe their eyes when they opened their property tax assessment from the Kenai Peninsula Borough.
'You could argue that they've been getting a break for however long it was (since the last assessment).'
--Dale Bagley, Kenai Peninsula Borough mayor
"We went to the borough to make sure they had the right property," Jodi said. "Because when we got the notice, we realized this wasn't us. But it was us. We were quite shocked."
The taxable value of their property more than doubled when borough assessors visited Cooper Landing last year.
The Painters are not alone in their plight. Between May 1999 and February 2000, borough assessors checked every parcel of land in the area from the Moose River to Cooper Landing, Moose Pass, Seward and Hope, and every parcel in an area running from central Ninilchik to Cottonfield Road near Anchor Point. Roughly 500 people have appealed their assessments, said Jim Lawyer, borough assessor.
Cooper Landing residents are particularly upset.
"Everybody in town who got a bill was kind of grumbly," said Pat Dye, who retired last year from his job as principal of Cooper Landing School. "A lot of people feel like they're not getting anything from the borough. Now they're getting this huge (tax) increase."
Steve Ingram, who lives on the Kenai River just below the Cooper Landing bridge, said he made some improvements and expected the assessed value of his property to reflect them. What surprised him was the astronomical increase in the assessed value of his land.
The assessed value of one of his riverfront lots rose fivefold, from $33,600 last year to $171,300 this year.
"I appealed it," he said. "I haven't heard anything back from it yet. I'm sure they're totally backlogged with appeals."
For Lyman Nichols, the assessed value of his land by Kenai Lake rose from $99,900 to $394,500. He appealed. Cheryle James said the value of her land by the lake rose from $57,000 to $136,900. She appealed, too.
Jodi Painter said her family was on vacation when their property assessment came, and her husband went to work on the North Slope when they returned. They missed the March 30 appeals deadline.
Lawyer said roughly 118 Cooper Landing residents have appealed their property tax assessments.
"We reassessed Homer and Anchor Point last year. We went through the same thing," he said. "There were a lot of additions that weren't on the roll. Land values had changed. All we can do is put them up to 100 percent of fair market value."
James said roughly 50 people attended a March 22 informational meeting with borough Mayor Dale Bagley and borough appraisers.
Lawyer said Cooper Landing residents probably saw bigger changes in their assessed values than residents of other areas because it has been so long since that area was reassessed. Just when the borough appraisers last visited Cooper Landing is unclear, he said, since his predecessors left poor records.
Borough assessors gauged land values from recent sales.
Ingram said there only have been a half-dozen recent sales for raw land in Cooper Landing.
"They didn't even have a fair group of sales to do a fair-market appraisal on," he said. "In so far as they're saying they haven't done it in so many years, I really don't appreciate their incompetence and it costing all me this money."
Bagley made an opposing observation.
"You could argue that they've been getting a break for however long it was (since the last assessment)," he said.
Jamie Shaw of of the borough appraising staff said he based land values on seven sales of raw Cooper Landing land last year and on the estimated values of the land alone from the sales of seven improved parcels. Lakefront land has sold for about $120,000 per acre, he said.
Just two riverfront lots were sold, one for about $50,000 per acre, and one for about $100,00 per acre. In assessing Cooper Landing values, Shaw said, he valued riverfront land at about $75,000 per acre.
Away from the lake, one 1.34-acre lot on Bean Creek Road sold for $25,000 in 1997, and sold again for $36,000 last year. The value of that parcel appreciated 44 percent in two years.
Dye said he paid $150,000 for his house and land five years ago, though they were assessed at just $82,800. That is one reason he did not complain when the borough assessed them at $188,800 this year, he said.
Contested assessments go before the borough assembly, sitting as Board of Equalization, beginning May 3. That is the proper place to settle property tax disputes, Bagley said.
"If they don't do a fair job, that's where it comes out," he said. "I can't step in and say, 'Lower everything 200 percent.' That's why we have a Board of Equalization.
"We need to let the process work. If the assembly disagrees with the six pieces of land they used up there, it could affect everyone's assessed value. One appeal could affect everyone."
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