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Rep. Kohler considers state law changes to help taxpayers

Tax reform
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After receiving property assessments this year, some in Summit and Wasatch counties say they're facing sharp increases to their tax bills over last year.

In recent years, property owners in the Wasatch Back have reported drastic fluctuations to their annual tax bills. A lawmaker representing people in the area says he may propose new bills to address some of those concerns.

As Summit and Wasatch county taxpayers complain about expensive property tax bills, a state lawmaker is proposing new procedures to cushion their costs.

Rep. Mike Kohler represents District 54, which covers Park City and Wasatch County. He says he’s been made aware of constituents paying tax bills that are disproportionate and unpredictable from year to year.

“I know people in Wasatch County and Summit County have had their properties assessed every year, so they're always in the higher echelon of value, meaning they’re going to pay higher taxes,” Kohler says. “One of them in a meeting the other day had a commercial property;they've gone from $10,000 to roughly $30,000, which is a whale of a hit.”

He says areas with high rates of growth are more likely to be assessed more frequently, and those are the property owners who consistently pay more in taxes. While those people’s taxes increase, people who aren’t assessed for years see little to no changes.

Kohler believes technology can help. In the next legislative session, he says he may propose legislation to make sure assessors use computer programs to perform yearly appraisals on everyone’s properties. As of now, he says it’s just an idea, and no details are official.

Summit County Assessor Stephanie Poll says her office is seeking a data analyst to move toward this type of valuation approach. She says it could take a few years to implement the strategies she’s planning to make assessments as equitable as possible. She also hopes any state-level legislation would allow counties appropriate time to budget for the resources her office needs.

Wasatch County Assessor Todd Griffin tells KPCW his office already uses software to factor market values into assessments. He says some programs cost millions of dollars and exceed the county’s budget, and he would gladly accept more help from the state.

But he also says every assessment is complicated, and he prefers to leave the bulk of the appraising to his staff.

“Every appraiser on my staff has over 20 years of experience,” Griffin says. “I don't think the public wants artificial intelligence to take over the part that touches them so dearly every year.”

Kohler also floated the idea of a bill to help keep property taxes for people 65 and older from increasing too drastically from year to year. He says that’s to protect people who are usually on fixed incomes.

“I think we're going to see some efforts to try and protect the value, or at least make sure their values can't go up extremely high in one year. They, in general, have a lot less of an ability to absorb it,” Kohler says.

Both Poll and Griffin supported the idea of helping people on fixed incomes at some level. Griffin says in the current market, some are at risk of being taxed out of the homes they own.

Kohler’s idea concerns limits to actual assessment values or tax bills people pay based on age. In Utah, regardless of age, some people on low incomes and veterans qualify for programs to shrink the costs of their property taxes.

Ben Lasseter reports for KPCW in Wasatch County. Before moving to Heber City, Ben worked in Manti as a general assignment newspaper reporter and editor.
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