A recent report from the Washington House of Representatives has spawned new questions about Klickitat County's property revaluation process.
The study, titled "Measuring Real Property Appraisal Performance in Washington's Property Tax System," was prepared by the Washington House of Representatives. It is a "report card" on how well the appraisal system is working for all counties in Washington, with the performance standards being measured set by the International Association of Assessing Officers.
Klickitat County did not fare well in the evaluation.
In a July 1 interview, Klickitat County Assessor Van Vandenberg was asked to explain how the revaluation process is being handled by the Assessor's Office, especially now that the homes and land of county residents will be assessed every year. Previously, assessments were conducted on a four-year revolving cycle.
Vandenberg pointed out that there are many attributes that give value to someone's property or home.
"The year a home is built is probably the biggest aspect of calculating the value," said Vandenberg.
He added that other important criteria include the square footage of the house, how many bathrooms there are, what condition the roof is in, and if there is any paint chipping on the sides of the house all affect value. Each characteristic of the house or land is given a score, and then everything is put into a computer and the value is calculated that way.
The Assessor's Office has also been trying to help and keep track of residents who have questions about their "notice of revaluation." Every person who comes in or calls with a question about their notice has a note made for them in the computer system, and their situation is assessed.
The interview with Vandenberg comes in the wake of the statewide evaluation of the performance on county assessors' on property appraisals around the state.
The report describes Klickitat County as "failing" in three levels of its assessments: in determining the "coefficient of dispersion, residential"; the "coefficient of dispersion, non-residential"; and the "percent difference, non-residential."
Klickitat County also was given the worst score in the state for "coefficient of concentration," as well as for the "median percentage deviation, non-residential."
The various categories go into measuring how close properties are to being assessed at 100 percent of market value.
Vandenberg declined to comment on the study.
"I haven't seen it, so I can't make a comment on it," Vandenberg said.
A White Salmon resident with a direct interest in how the county is handling property appraisals is Darlene Johnson, who is running to become the new Klickitat County Assessor.
Johnson said she was shocked by the report from the Washington House of Representatives.
Johnson said it was imperative for whoever is elected to serve as the county's Assessor to follow International Association of Assessing Officers (IAAO) guidelines and Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPSA) guidelines for mass appraisal.
"If you follow the IAAO and USPSA guidelines, then you will meet the standards," Johnson explained. "The report identifies the areas that must be corrected, and with my background, I can make those corrections."
Robert Carnahan, a White Salmon resident who has been engaged in a lengthy appeal process with the Assessor's Office, said he was distressed to see the rankings for Klickitat County.
"I'm concerned that the public in general is satisfied with the status quo, but they are unaware of how seriously deficient the Assessor's Office is in this county," Carnahan said. "Klickitat County ranks last and second to last in the state in terms of fair appraisals of real property."
According to the Assessor's Office, as of July 1, only 328 people have raised a question about their revaluation notice, out of 11,000 or so that were mailed out. The employee who handles the question or complaint creates a note in the computer with the employee's initials, the date and time of the question, and the question the citizen had.
Vandenberg said his office is trying to respond to the questions in a timely manner. He explained that the appeal process for the revaluation is a three-tier procedure.
First, a person wanting to appeal a revaluation notice or the value set by the Assessor first goes to the Clerk of the Board of Equalization. After filling out the forms, the person appealing would then be put on the agenda of the board and have a hearing scheduled. If there is no resolution in this process, then the case would go the State Board of Tax Appeals, and the same process would apply.
After these steps, if there is still no resolution, the case would go to Superior Court.
Vandenberg said he believed the overall economic situation of Klickitat County is relatively good.
"We're doing fairly well, compared to the national economy," Vandenberg explained. "Washington state was one of the last states to see a decline in the housing market. Two counties even, Benton and Yakima, saw increases while the rest of the nation was declining."
Windmills have provided Klickitat County with a major boost economically. Vandenberg said the county is taking in a little more than $2 million in taxes annually from the current wind energy facilities.
A complete copy of the report on county assessment practices around the state is available on the Washington Legislature's Web site at: www.leg.wa.gov/house/committees/FIN/documents/2008/ratiotext.pdf