Tax appeal board votes on 5 complaints
Members of the Haines Borough Assembly acting as the Board of Equalization lowered one property assessment and kept four the same April 30.
Lack of access and wetlands were issues for property owners seeking reduced valuations.
“I understand the rationale for the assessor to assess...but I’m having a hard time with property that’s 2,650 feet up the side of a mountain on top of a cliff, that has no road access,” member Norm Smith said, referring to an appeal from Craig and Sheri Loomis.
The Loomis land of about a dozen acres was assessed as “like property” to the Ira Henry subdivision near the Haines airport. The Loomis property was assessed at $20,000.
The land is part of a family homestead, Loomis said.“The portion described here has no access, and no established easements or right-of-ways. It is very steep terrain above the pipeline, and inaccessible. Years ago it was valued at $50 per acre.”
Assistant assessor Dean Olsen said he went up on snowshoes to look at the property. The upper corner is approximately 2,640 feet from the roadside. The meeting packet showed a Henry Construction development nearby starts at around 325 feet from the roadside, more than 1,000 feet closer than the lower corner of the Loomis lot.
“We are obligated to assess property at fair market value - the state says between 90 and 110 percent - and we do that based off of sales,” Olsen said.
The board voted 5-1 in support of the $20,000 assessed valuation, with Smith opposed.
Member Debra Schnabel said the land could be developed.
“I can understand that even though it looks steep and inaccessible, people do find ways to do that, and it’s desirable property, so that argument, for me, in this particular instance holds weight,” she said.
The board also assessed a similar property owned by Bob and Nancy Loomis at $20,000.
Following the board’s ruling on his land, Craig Loomis said the decision wasn’t fair.
“Nobody on that board that you have, including the assessor, has even walked up there and looked at that piece of property,” he said. “There’s boulders up there as big as houses.”
Loomis expressed doubt he would be able to sell the property. “Send me a check for 20 grand, and it’s all yours.”
Resident Roger Schnabel appealed to the board after the value of one of his properties increased by 76 percent to $117,200.
“It appears that the property area in question is a hot spot, because I’m the adjacent landowner to Craig (Loomis) towards the west,” he said.
Schnabel said one advantage he had over Loomis was a 250-foot frontage along the highway, but he said “it’s been a real challenge” contemplating how best to develop the 22-acre property, and switchbacks would lower the value of the frontage.
“I respectfully have a problem with the decision you made just a moment ago on the Loomis property,” Schnabel said. “You used (resident) Stan Jones as a comparison, but Stan had a benefit, and that is he owned huge frontage, and that gave him the opportunity to develop his land upwards.”
His appeal said comparison of buildable lots was not applicable due to the steepness of the terrain.
The board voted to uphold the $117,200 valuation, with Smith opposed and Debra Schnabel excused from voting.
“Our assessed value was fair and equitable in relation to the other properties,” said assessor Mike Renfro. “I think it’s a pretty nice piece of property.”
The 10 Mile Haines Highway property of John Floreske Jr. was reduced to $83,900 from $141,900, with Debra Schnabel opposed.
Renfro said he had no documentation of how much of the 33 acres was delineated wetlands, and member Steve Vick suggested holding the value steady to allow Floreske time to gather the required information. Olsen said another property owner hired a surveyor and recorded a plat to get a reduction in valuation due to wetlands.
“The property is valued way in excess of the fair market value,” Floreske wrote in his appeal. “This lot is all swamp and cliff.”
He said the property includes approximately 56,000 square feet “that is in any way usable land.”
A Fred Einspruch property of 0.61 acres near Haines Friends of Recycling on Small Tracts Road had its value upheld at $15,800.
“This property has no road access,” Einspruch wrote. “The dominating feature of this property is a year-round stream, which at certain times of the year can grow significantly in size, greatly reducing any potential usefulness of this property.”
Olsen said there were 16 property tax appeals this year, and the 11 appeals decided prior to the meeting reduced the borough’s total assessed valuation by $245,790. The appeals that went to the board trimmed another $175,600.
“These value changes were the result of sales information that was not reported prior to the assessment or additional information provided by property owners,” Olsen said.
Last year, when more assessments changed, the borough’s total assessed valuation dropped $988,120 over the course of 44 appeals.