Katherine Brooks' hours of preparation paid off when she appealed her assessed property values before the Kenai Peninsula Borough Board of Equalization.
"Her testimony was compelling enough that (the board) felt they ought to reduce it," said Borough Assessor Shane Horan.
On her own behalf, Brooks presented photos of her Mackey Lake property that detailed the unfinished condition of her detached two-car garage. She also offered a list of 22 detached garages in her neighborhood she considered comparable. The strength of her presentation resulted in a reduction of $10,900, according to Horan.
However, Brooks expressed frustration over her experience.
"My feelings are not with the board," Brooks said. "It's the fact that it's really hard in those hearings to understand what's going on."
She also questioned the board's understanding of assessing. The Board of Equalization consists of the nine-member borough assembly. Brooks' familiarity with assessing, she said, comes from selling real estate on the peninsula between 1985 and 1988 and studying appraising at the college level.
"Whatever the borough assessor told them is what they went with," Brooks said. "I got the impression listening to them, that they just rubber-stamped what the assessor was telling them," Brooks said. "I was extremely uncomfortable with that."
One thing she said was clear was that the board's decision only applied to this year.
"They'll be back next year," Brooks said. "I better have my ducks in a row."
Fifteen appeals were scheduled to be addressed during last Wednesday's meeting of the Board of Equalization. The properties in question were spread across the peninsula, including Nikiski, Soldotna, Kenai, the Mackey Lake area, Ninilchik, Seward and Homer. A resolution on one property was reached prior to the Wednesday hearing. Decisions on five appeals that concerned properties in Poacher's Cove subdivision were deferred until a later date.
Teresa Werner-Quade, who presented an appeal on behalf of herself and her husband, Paul, also expressed concern about the makeup of the board.
"First of all you have a conflict of interest with the borough assembly sitting as the BOE," Werner-Quade said. "Somehow the board should be made up of citizens."
Her appeal focused on the assessor's calculation of square footage of the chalet-style 1.5-story structure owned by the Kenai couple.
"It was given the same square footage on the second floor as the first floor," Werner-Quade said. "The difference turns out to be about $20,000. That's what we're in dispute over. We'll never build anything like that again."
Horan agreed that a computer program used by the assessing office and developed by Marshall and Swift, a California-based information systems company recognized for its ability to compile real estate cost data, used the same square footage for the first and second floors in buildings like the Quades'.
However, the rate applied to the second floor is $36.48 per square foot, considerably less than $61.84 for the first floor.
But Werner-Quade said that wasn't satisfactory.
"The seven comparable properties that (the assessor) offered aren't comparable at all," she said. "All the numbers were figured differently."
Paul Quade said he checked with other assessors in other areas around the state.
"They never charge for square footage for anything under 5-feet tall," Quade said. "However, the assessor here considered that 'foot room.' I've never heard of 'foot room.' We gave them pictures of pipes in that area. It's actually a crawl area."
The board upheld the assessing department's findings.
Werner-Quade said she and her husband are looking at possible avenues for continuing their appeal.
Reflecting on Wednesday's activities, Bill Popp, who represents Kenai on the borough assembly, said, "I think it went smoothly. I don't mean that from the perspective of the outcomes. I'm just talking in terms of giving the appellants an opportunity to present their cases and present them in meaningful ways."
In the past, Popp has expressed concern about the makeup of the board.
"I introduced an ordinance last year giving the assembly the opportunity to change it and go to a professional board made up of members of the community and the borough assembly," Popp said. "There was no interest in it at the time."
However, he said he would be discussing it with the assembly again this year.
"If I see there's a will to change the way the board is made up, I may be proposing it again this year," Popp said.
Responding to criticism that the assembly may be accepting without question information supplied by the assessor's office, Popp said, "I don't think the assembly is predisposed to rubber-stamp anything. The assembly gives the assessing department a pretty hard time about justifying everything."
On the flip side, Popp said the public also should expect the same sort of questioning.
"Everyone should be given as close a scrutiny as possible in terms of justifying their position," he said.
Horan encouraged the public to come in and review their property files.
"I don't think people realize that it's public information," he said. "We have photographs, information, notes on the property and it can be very enlightening. Not only from a value perspective, but from a historic perspective as well."
The board meets again June 18.
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