Island assessments shoot up 15 percent

"Your home as investment is paying off.Bainbridge Island property values are up an average of 15 percent over last year, with reassessment notices arriving in local mailboxes this week.I'm blown away whenever I go up there (to Bainbridge), and see what people are paying for properties, said Jim Avery, Kitsap County assessor.The island already has far and away the highest home and land prices in the county, and again is seeing the area's biggest jump in assessed valuations. North Kitsap properties are up an average of 7 percent, with those in Central Kitsap, Bremerton and South Kitsap seeing average hikes of 5 percent.The reassessments affect just over 67,000 of the county's 110,000 tax parcels, both residential and commercial, according to an assessor's office news release.Under state law, properties are supposed to be assessed at 100 percent of their market value; in reality, the Kitsap assessor's office takes a conservative approach and values them in the 92 percent to 94 percent range.The annual reassessments are done in two concurrent efforts. First, all 1999 Kitsap property transactions - approximately 7,000 - were analyzed and compared against current valuations, assessors officials said. The results then were used in a neighborhood-by-neighborhood analysis, to determine whether local adjustments were necessary to reflect market conditions.At the same time, appraisers were out in the field, doing on-the-spot surveys of about 16 percent of county tax parcels. Appraisers haven't visited the island for three years, this time inspecting Poulsbo, Keyport, Port Gamble and several other North Kitsap neighborhoods instead.The new assessments follow on the heels of a hot local real estate market. Even though they were down a tad from 1998, about 450 island home sales were reported last year. Average listing price at the end of last year was over $517,000. In looking at Bainbridge, Avery said analysts found that homes were routinely selling at 30 percent above their assessed valuation last year. About 50 island commercial properties sold last year, he said, with assessments at about 60 percent of their sale price.Avery said the new assessments are tied to the regional economy. He noted that 1999 also saw a robust real estate market in King and Snohomish counties, which spilled over to the island but to a lesser extent Poulsbo.Some island valuations will climb only 5 percent, Avery said, and some as high as 20 percent, depending on depreciation. Others will see no change in valuation, and owners will not receive notification from the county.Property owners can challenge their new assessments and make their case before the county board of equalization, by calling (360) 377-4424. Avery said anyone unhappy should call his office first, at 842-2061, to make sure the county's information matches a parcel's actual characteristics.Every property is different, he said, and we'd be glad to listen to anybody.Also, there are property tax relief programs for seniors and disabled citizens. Those with household incomes below $34,000 may qualify.Avery emphasized that higher assessments don't necessarily translate into higher property taxes. That's because local taxing districts set their collections based on a fixed dollar amount, with the dollar per thousand tax rate calculated from there.If they don't want any more money next year, your taxes aren't going to go up, he said.Avery, a Republican elected to the courthouse last fall, said his office has staffed up to field questions this week.I'm enjoying the job, sadistic as that may sound, he said."

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