Boston Harbor Association
January 2, 1997 NEWSLETTER Volume III, Number 1
The first meeting of the BHA in 1997 will occur on Wednesday, January 15, at 7:00 pm at the Fire Station on Boston Harbor Rd.
The guest speaker will be Sheriff Gary Edwards.
The purpose of the meeting is to elect the Board for 1997, to evaluate progress to date on issues identified in the 1995 planning effort, and to prepare for activities in 1997.
Please put January 15 on your calendar. Thanks.
It seems like every June we receive a postcard for the County Assessor telling us how much our property and improvements have grown in value. Of course this new figure will be used by the County Treasurer's Office to bill us the next year for property taxes - property taxes that seem to go up more than the 6% lid would allow. Have you ever wondered how the Assessor revalues your home and property? Here in Boston Harbor, the new sewer and water system has opened the floodgates of new construction. Do all those new homes drive up your property taxes? Do you know just what "characteristic data" the Assessor has on you? Is the revaluation of your property done in the same way as a bank appraisal?
After three visits by Kevin O'Sullivan, Thurston County Assessor, to Boston Harbor over the past two years, confusion among local property owners still exists. So David Jamison, President of the Boston Harbor Association, and Bob Knight, member of the Board of the BH Association and Chair of the Utilities Advisory Committee, met with staff of the Assessor's office in late November for a through briefing on how our property is revalued each year. Thanks to Diana Thornton and her associates in the Assessor's Office for their help. Dave and Bob have put together this synopsis of the process for you.
The first thing you need to understand is that the Assessor's Office uses what is called a "Mass Appraisal" process. This differs from the normal bank appraisal process which is called a "Fee Appraisal". Incidentally while the type of appraisal is the choice of the Assessor, the detailed methods are dictated by the State of Washington.
Fee Appraisal compares (with adjustments for size, location, etc) your property with three other similar properties in the immediate area that have sold over the past year or so and uses the sale price for those properties to estimate what your property should be worth.
Mass Appraisal compares groups of sales of similar type properties (i.e. waterfront under an acre; one acre upland properties; five acre unbuilt properties; etc) throughout a "market area" (for us that is all of the north peninsula from Boston Harbor to Johnson Point) in order to update the value of those similar properties within a local area of interest such as Boston Harbor.
This is how Mass Appraisal works:
First the value of your land (without any improvements) is established. The value is estimated from several bits of information, called "characteristic data", the Assessor has on file on your property, such as: Is your property larger or smaller than an acre or is it over five acres? Is it waterfront? Does it have unbuildable wetlands on it? Where is it located? Does it front a road or do you have to meander over a long easement to reach it? What is the local land use zoning? Does it have a view? These data allow the Assessor to compare your property with what the Assessor calls the "benchmark" value for that particular type of property. The benchmark value is approximately the median sales price over the past one or two years for that type of property over the market area. However it does not include unusual sales that are well outside the normal sale range. The assessed value of the specific property is then calculated by computer using the major characteristic or type of the property, times the median value, possibly along with a percentage adjustment. The percentage adjustment is developed using the best professional judgement of the Assessor's staff.
For example the median waterfront sale of land less than one acre (benchmark value) over the past two years in the Boston Harbor/Johnson Point market area was around $1750 per front foot of waterfront. A piece of property, less than an acre in size, with 100 ft of waterfront (the benchmark property for that type) would be valued at 100 ft times $1750 or $175,000. However there would be a percentage adjustment if the shoreline length was shorter (the value would be adjusted upward) or if the length was longer (the value would be adjusted downward). This is because the Assessor's office has found that sales prices of waterfront don't drop in half with only 50 ft of waterfront nor do they double with 200 ft of waterfront.
In addition the Assessor adds an enhancement value for the presence of water and sewer on your property. If your land is in the Boston Harbor ULID or if it has a well and septic system, the Assessor adds $5,000 for water and $5,000 for sewer. So a piece of property with 100 ft of waterfront within the Boston Harbor ULID would have a value of $175,000 plus $10,000 or $185,000 for the 1997 tax year.
Secondly the Assessor determines the value of any improvements on your property. The characteristic data the Assessor has on file on your improvements (such as size of house; whether it has a garage or not; one or two stories; quality of construction; etc) is run through a computer program that uses current data on the cost to replicate your improvement to arrive at an estimated replacement cost. This property specific replacement cost is then compared with the benchmark value (based on sales over the last year or so) for similar improvements throughout the market area. The final assessed value is the replacement cost adjusted for any difference relative to the benchmark. Note: New construction does not affect the benchmark until that home is sold. In addition unusual sales are not taken into account in determining the median value, such as buying a house and lot and then tearing down the house to build a new home.
Finally the assessed value of the land plus improvements are compared to the benchmark values for the market area to determine how close the assessed value is to "True and Fair Market Value". The Assessor is required by state law to assess all properties and improvements at the True and Fair Market Value which by definition equals current sales. While a 100% correlation is the ideal, normally the Assessor does not strive for more than 90% to 95% so as to not over assess property. So if either the land or improvements is below 90% to 95% a blanket percentage adjustment is made to bring the specific property up relative to the benchmark value in the market area.
Have you got it? Do you understand it? Well I hope so because we're not going to tell you again! So by now you should all be writing a letter to the Assessor asking to receive a copy of your "characteristic data". Be sure you include the Parcel Number of the property of concern when you write. You can then make sure that the Assessor has the correct information upon which to calculate your new property values. Your letter should be addressed to Diana Thornton, Office of the Assessor, Thurston County, 2000 Lakeridge Drive S.W., Olympia, WA 98502-6045. Her phone number is 786-5410.
Oh! By the way. The 6% lid only deals with the rate at which your property can be taxed not the change in assessed valuation. Sorry! But feel free to call Kevin O'Sullivan as he has legislation he wants passed by the state legislature that would limit the rise to the inflation rate for taxing district budgets (these are all the other taxing entities [other than schools and anything we voted on] which amount to approximately 40% of the property tax bill). He tried last year, but the special interests were against him. You may also want to call Senator Karen Fraser, Reps Kathy, Wolfe and Sandra Romero about ways of reducing the other portion of the property tax bill as well.
If you are interested in the planning effort please refer to the September 96 newsletter that was handed out at the annual picnic. More copies can be obtained from the Marina or will be available at the meeting.
David W Jamison, President 357-4335
Pam Jessen, Vice President 357-5670
John Erickson, Sec/Tres 786-5090
David Snider 943-7276
Bob Knight 352-5545
Jerry McDonald 943-3868
Ruth Peters 357-8086
Betsy Ward 786-8272
Todd Wilson 956-9018