By Marcy Stamper
Staffers in the Okanogan County assessor’s office have finished adjustments to land values for 3,800 parcels that were damaged in the Carlton Complex Fire. The new valuations apply only to land, since adjustments for burned structures were made in August.
The assessor reduced values on timbered land by 50 percent and on non-timbered land (mostly shrub-steppe) by 25 percent. These reductions were based in part on consultation with appraisers, real estate agents and bankers in other areas severely affected by wildfires, according to Okanogan County Assessor Scott Furman.
The difference in the reduction on land value takes into account the fact that timbered lands take much longer to recover from fire damage — for example, in Entiat, where the Tyee Creek Fire burned 20 years ago, forested lands still have not recovered, said Furman.
“This is an estimate of the effect the fire had on the value of the property. Sales will help with valuation in the future,” said Furman.
The appraisers used maps supplied by the fire and incident management teams and combined them with the county’s aerial views to identify affected properties and whether the land was timbered.
Five people worked full-time on the revaluations for three months. They also worked with software vendors to develop new coding so that the assessor could isolate the affected properties, said Furman.
In addition to the adjustments to land values, the assessor’s office reduced values on two additional houses damaged by flooding and mudslides. Land covered by mud has also been cut in value by 50 percent, and one property that was reduced to a gully by the mudslide has been revalued at $500, the minimum assessed value in the county, said Furman.
Because Washington uses a budget-based property-tax system, Okanogan County will still collect the same amount of tax, but the difference will be spread out among all taxpayers, said Furman.
The fire damage reduced the value of taxable properties for the county’s current expense budget by about 2 percent, but half of that will be recouped by the value of new construction, according to Okanogan County Treasurer Leah Mc Cormack.
The biggest impact from the reductions will be in the Pateros School District, where properties lost 20 percent of their former value. Voted levies, such as for school maintenance and operations, cannot be distributed to other county school districts but will have to be paid by property owners in the Pateros School District. Okanogan County Fire District 15 will also see a significant reduction in tax revenue, said Furman.
By contrast, the other school districts with damage from the fire — the Methow Valley, Brewster and Okanogan — lost 1 to 2 percent of the value, which will be absorbed by the other taxpayers in those school districts.
Properties in the reduced-rate farm and agricultural programs, including open space, timber and ranchland, are based on a five-year average, so these assessments have not been changed, said Furman.
Bills and refunds
The Okanogan County treasurer’s office is still processing adjustments and refunds for people with structures burned in the fire, said Mc Cormack. Some property owners who paid their year’s taxes in full may be due a refund, she said.
In some cases these people will also receive an adjusted statement for their land values with the October notice for the second half of taxes due. If they are entitled to a refund, they will still be reimbursed on the total bill for the year, said Mc Cormack.
About 500 taxpayers are due refunds based on damage to structures, but the treasurer and her staff are still calculating the reimbursements, which are complex because they must include any interest earned on taxes already paid, said Mc Cormack.
Tax payments can be made by mail to the Okanogan County treasurer or by credit card to www.officialpayments.com or 1-800-272-9829. Credit card payments require the jurisdiction number (5633), tax amount and parcel numbers, and include a service fee. For questions about the tax payments, call the treasurer’s office at (509) 422-7180.
For most taxpayers, the second-half property taxes and irrigation assessments must be postmarked by Friday (Oct. 31) to avoid an interest charge and penalty. Anyone with fire damage will automatically get an extension until the end of November to pay second-half taxes, said Mc Cormack.
The assessor’s office is mailing the new valuation notices this week. People have 30 days from the date of the notice to appeal. Furman encourages people to call the assessor’s office at (509) 422-7190 if they have questions on the new amounts.