State advises Wasatch County against ‘drastic’ action to solve property tax inequities
After meeting with the state last week over whether to extend tax deadlines to help make Wasatch County property taxes more equal, county council members decided the pros didn’t outweigh the cons.
The council arranged the meeting with the Utah Tax Commission to explore a new way to address complaints from residents who believe their tax bills will be too high this year. They discussed a statute that allows counties some leniency with tax deadlines.
The idea was to allow more time for the county assessor to review roughly 5,000 properties identified as overdue for assessment. That’s roughly 20% of the properties in the county.
Utah Tax Commission Property Tax Division Assistant Director Joshua Nielsen attended the meeting Thursday. He said the assessor’s extra effort this year was part of a long-term plan to fix inequities. He advised the council against changing the deadlines, calling it a drastic move that would have unintended consequences.
“In my opinion, this is a very drastic thing that, in this situation, should not be considered,” Nielsen said. “In the 15 years that I’ve been in the property tax division, this has never happened, and I’m not aware of any situation where it has happened. You're trying to put a Band-Aid on something, and you're not properly analyzing these properties in order to get us to where we want to be.”
County Assessor Todd Griffin reported taking an aggressive approach this year to play catchup and ensure more homes were valued at current levels. That involved detailed reviews of 2,700 more properties than in a normal year before the May deadline. As a result, the total value of all properties in the county went up by more than 50% this year.
Nielsen said the assessor’s office made significant progress fixing the issue, and at the rate it’s going, the county could be on track to fix it within another year or two.
If the county were to move the deadline and start assessing properties again, Nielsen said it would cause major delays for collecting tax money and funding government offices.
County Attorney Scott Sweat said since extending deadlines hasn’t been used this way before, doing so could make the county vulnerable to lawsuits.
Council members ultimately agreed. However, Marilyn Crittenden pointed out the problem had been going on for years under the approval of the state commission, and taxpayers are getting impatient.
“I feel very strongly and passionately about this,” Crittenden said. “When it comes to taxes, what we're talking about is, this is the right of every citizen to be taxed fairly and equitably, and that has not been taking place in the state, I would say more than just this county. I just need to know what the state is going to do moving forward.”
Nielsen said the state will keep working with the county in the years to come, and it’s confident the current approach is working.
In a few weeks, the council will meet with individual taxpayers who appeal their assessment values. Council members resolved to focus on addressing those individual grievances on a case-by-case basis.
All taxpayers are entitled to file assessment appeals. The council will work with Griffin and a property valuation specialist to determine whether to make adjustments people request.
More information on the process of filing assessment appeals can be found at wasatch.utah.gov.