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Wasatch County assessor, council and residents discuss property tax inequities

Wasatch County Assessor Todd Griffin addresses the county council with an update on property tax assessments.
Ben Lasseter
The Wasatch County assessor's office is located in the county administration building at 25 North Main Street in Heber City.

The Wasatch County assessor updated the county council Wednesday on that office’s efforts to get caught up on property tax assessments. Residents said they’re frustrated with discrepancies in how much some homeowners are paying in taxes.

At the council meeting, County Assessor Todd Griffin said 3,600 local properties were overdue for appraisals as of this year. Of those, his office has appraised about 700 so far this year.

Griffin said the goal is to assess the rest by this May in hopes of making property taxes more uniform to homeowners in the county.

Griffin and councilors said he inherited a difficult problem when he took over as assessor in January 2021, and now, the best approach is to chip away at the thousands of properties that haven’t been reassessed in years.

“Now, that is our focus now is to go to work getting these cleaned up, there's no other way to put it,” Griffin said. “We’ve got to look at it. I wish I had the ability to look at all 20,000 in one year.”

Several residents were skeptical and said they believed there must be a better approach.

Some told the council they had been following the activity of the assessor’s office for years, either because their taxes increased dramatically, or because they knew people whose taxes had. That happens when properties are reassessed while the housing market is hot.

Tracy Taylor of the Wasatch Taxpayers Association said the progress made isn’t enough.

“I hope you feel like some of us citizens who have been trying to work through this problem since last May - even a couple years ago, when we first brought it up to you - we're trying to work within the system, and we're trying to get this straightened out,” Taylor said. “I believe that you have lost trust with the public. That is in the state code that you can ensure the taxpayer an equitable and fair system, if that's the basis of taxation in the state.”

She asked if the county would work with a third-party company to speed up the review process.

County Manager Dustin Grabau said the county had looked into that but hadn’t found a consultant firm with that specialty. Instead, the Utah State Tax Commission has been helping out.

She said she believed the council didn’t understand the extent of the problem. She brought up properties owned by local government officials that showed inconsistencies in valuations between comparable properties, including the county council, as homes that were overdue for reassessing, and said that’s part of why the public is losing faith in the system.

Assessed values of individual properties are public information.

Bob Babbel said he’d been keeping up with property valuations since before Griffin’s time. He proposed the county use a new system that appraises homes en masse, rather than one by one.

“I have looked at probably 500 homes, using the county system,” Babbel said. “I found over 50% of homes that I looked at that were not changed from 2020 to 2021. So they had exactly the same assessment for 2021 as they did for 2020, over 50%. I mean, the state law says that the homes have to be reassessed every year, a physical assessment every five years, yes, but you've got homes that are going on five to 10 years without being reassessed. I mean, we are very unhappy. And, you know, we're not going to stop until it's fixed.”

Griffin said his office is training two new assessors. He also said the office is exploring options for other ways to expedite assessments.

Councilors thanked Griffin personally for his work and said they wanted to provide support. He said his office needs more IT help.

Griffin agreed to give another update next month.

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