One thing that we as Americans are not good at is keeping our taxes simple. As the San Juan County assessor, I would like to attempt to provide you with some basic meat-and-potatoes answers to the most common questions we receive at the Assessor’s Office. Please keep in mind that these are simple answers to sometimes complex questions, and you may want to come in or call our office for a more detailed explanation.
The most common question we receive is, “Why did the valuation on my house increase when the market value of my house has not?” This is due to the state Legislature passing a law in 2001 that states that the value of a residential property will increase 3 percent per year until the property has reached market value. There are three exceptions to this law: 1) a change in ownership, 2) the property has undergone new construction, or 3) the use or zoning has changed from a residential use to another use. In all three cases, the valuation will increase to market value the following year. This law was enacted during a period of significant increases in property value and designed to keep homeowners from seeing large increases in their tax bills and keep them from being taxed out of their property.
One unintended consequence of the law was tax lightning, which happens to new homeowners when the valuation of a house is reassessed to market value due to the change in ownership. The property taxes for new homeowners can end up much higher than their neighbors who’ve lived in a house for many years.
Protesting values — If you believe that the valuation on your property is incorrect, you must protest within 30 days after the Notice of Value is mailed out. The Notices of Value are mailed out in February or March of each year. After the 30-day “protest period” is over, your only option for protest is to file in district court.
As you can imagine, this is a hard pill for a property owner to swallow if their property was over-valued and they did not protest. Please protest your value after the Notices of Value are mailed out if you feel your valuation is incorrect. The reason the Notices of Value are mailed out is so that property owners can verify that the values are correct and notify the Assessor’s Office of any discrepancies. Many times, we are unaware of a property that has not been maintained on the inside or has other issues.
If you own and live in your home you qualify for the head of family exemption. This exemption typically saves the homeowner about $40 per year. If you’re an honorably discharged veteran, there is a veteran’s exemption which typically saves a property owner about $60 per year. These exemptions must be applied for in order to receive them. Once you receive these exemptions, you do not have to reapply as long as you continue to own and/or live at the property. Aside from my duties as assessor, I am also the president and managing partner of the local penny-pinchers chapter, and I can tell you firsthand the savings add up over the years.
Lastly, I ask you to come in or call our office with any questions or concerns. The Assessor’s Office in San Juan County has a highly competent, professional and friendly staff who is here to do our best to serve you.
Jimmy Voita is the San Juan County assessor.