Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, speaks during a joint session of the Alaska Legislature on Feb. 26, 2024. (Clarise Larson/KTOO)

This story was published by KTOO and reprinted with permission.

Many residents in both Juneau and Haines saw a jump in their property assessments last year. Now, an Alaska Senate bill would require state accreditation for tax assessors and prevent municipalities from raising the assessed value of properties during an appeal process.

Sen. Jesse Kiehl, a Juneau Democrat, sponsored SB242. He said the bill aims to make the property assessment process in the state more fair and transparent for residents.

“This is a bill that maintains the important principle of local control in local government, but sets some basic rules of the road and a little bit of balance for property owners who disagree with the tax assessor on what their property is worth,” he said.

The bill puts into place new standards for assessors in Alaska by requiring a level 3 certification from the Alaska Association of Assessing Officers or requiring that they work under the supervision of someone who does. But it would also allow municipalities to adopt their own standards instead if they prefer.

The bill would also prevent assessors from raising the value of a property during an appeal process. And, it changes the default for who hears tax appeals to an appointed Board of Equalization, instead of the municipality’s locally elected officials. 

Residents from Juneau and Haines gave public testimony on the bill on Thursday. Brenda Josephson, a Haines resident, said she applauds the bill and the guardrails it puts in place following what she said was a “trainwreck” of an assessment process last year. 

“We had an uncertified contract assessor that was hired and he enacted a new exotic hybrid mass appraisal valuation system,” she said. “The result was assessments where some properties were assessed in excess of their full and true market value.” 

The Haines Borough faced a summer of intense public criticism following a dramatic rise in some property assessments and resulting tax bills. Many residents blamed the borough’s contract assessor who they say did not have proper credentials for the position. However, the borough says the rise in property values is the result of a hot residential real estate market and corrections for out-of-date assessments. 

Though nearly all testifiers on Thursday spoke in favor of the bill, some Juneau residents, like Howard Beary, requested Kiehl include an assessment limit in the bill to cap how much the assessed value of a property can increase from one year to the next. 

“What I noticed in this bill is there’s no limits, and my property tax went up over 40%,” he said. “This bill has some positive things, but there’s nothing in there that says that they can’t raise it 40%.”

In an interview, Kiehl said that doesn’t fit with the goal of that bill, and he doesn’t want it to disrupt different municipalities’ revenue structures across the state. 

Following public testimony, the bill was held in committee for further consideration. Kiehl said he feels good about the chances of the bill moving forward this session.