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Island home valuations up 20 percent

Impact on tax bill varies depending on local levies, exemptions for elderly

Your home is worth 20 percent more than it was this time last year.

So says the Kitsap County Assessor’s Office, which sent out new valuations for residential properties late last week.

Bainbridge valuations – which will be used to determine 2006 property taxes – averaged 20 percent higher than 2004, on par with virtually unprecedented increases countywide.

Residents in Central and South Kitsap saw their valuations climb by 17-18 percent, while valuations jumped 25-26 percent in Bremerton and Suquamish/Indianola.

Some waterfront properties in Central Kitsap shot up 36-40 percent.

“I had to go back to the early ’80s to find where we had raised the countywide valuation this much,” said county Assessor Jim Avery, who attributed the increase to a strong real estate market . “Previously low-valued real estate has definitely attracted buyers from more affluent markets.”

Continued low interest rates and scarce land for new building lots have fueled the market, he said, noting that the average valuation increases in neighboring Pierce County were virtually identical: 19.7 percent.

The assessor’s office is charged with determining the value of all real property in the county, for purposes of determining the property tax bill for the owner.

The methodology involves a combination of physical inspection of properties – one-sixth of the county is visited every year, 2005 being Central Kitsap’s turn – and statistical analysis of recorded sales prices in the previous 12 months.

On Bainbridge Island, the new valuations were based on 571 recorded home sales last year, out of the 9,302 taxable residential parcels. The sales price of homes in a given area and other factors lead to a “global adjustment” throughout that neighborhood.

“‘Distribution of the tax burdern’ is how I like to say it,” Avery said. “If people look at it that way, (they understand that) if their share doesn’t change, their taxes don’t change.”

Under the law, valuations are supposed to be set at 100 percent of market value, although in practice they are usually 5-10 percent lower.

That is, as Avery notes, largely a function of timing; by the time new valuations come out mid-year, the market has already seen another five months worth of price inflation.

Even so, the reception from property owners can be less than positive.

Avery said his office phone lines were alive Monday morning, as residents sought explanations for why their properties were suddenly worth so much more than last year.

“This is still, ultimately, somewhat of an emotional marketplace,” Avery said. “I know – I sold real estate for eight years. It’s not like potatoes at Safeway. What we’re trying to predict is what a house would sell for on Jan. 1, 2005, that didn’t sell.”

Appraisers were at the ready in Avery’s office to discuss the assessor’s rationale in making the new valuations. Property improvements and the degree to which a home boasts “a view” are among the characteristics considered by the assessor.

As has become his habit each year, Avery noted that a higher property valuation does not mean a higher tax bill.

The city and such special taxing districts as schools, parks and fire are under a voter-imposed tax lid, he noted, meaning they can only raise revenue by 1 percent per year without going to the ballot box for approval.

Bainbridge voters recently defeated a four-year levy for technology in schools, and no other levies have been passed recently.

A school levy in Bremerton and a North Kitsap fire and aid levy were approved, meaning property taxes will go up in those areas.

There is a break, though, for those least able to pay.

Low-income seniors ages 61 and older and those disabled from employment are eligible for relief from voter-approved tax levies.

The Washington Legislature recently raised the annual income threshhold to $35,000, meaning more people are now eligible. Additional breaks are available for those earning less.

Information on the property tax exemption is available by calling Avery’s office at 842-2061, extension 7085, or online at www.kitsapgov.com/assr.

The countywide increase in valuation was $4 billion, which Avery said was a single-year record. Valuations are expected to jump again next year.

For what it’s worth, the total value of Bainbridge Island property and homes is now officially about $4.751 billion – one-fifth of the total valuation of the county.

* * * * *

Don’t like it?

If you believe your property valuation is incorrect, the first step is to call the Kitsap County Assessor’s Office at 842-2061, ext. 7085, for an explanation.

Those still unhappy can appeal to the county’s Board of Equalization, an appointed citizen group that considers complaints case by case. Appeals can be filed through the assessor’s office.

Even Assessor Jim Avery admits that the process of putting a value on property that hasn’t actually sold can be imprecise.

“We’re not infallible, and we’re not perfect, and we’re not always the same,” Avery said. “I tell people it’s a mix of science and art to what we do. We try to use as much science as we can, but there’s still a lot of subjectivity.”

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