Property assessments reflect reality

When the frost is on the pumpkin,

And the fodder's in the shock;

And they've reassessed your property,

It's time to run amok.

Hold everything. As Jimmy Durante would have shouted, "Stop da music!"

Clallam County property owners soon will receive, if they have not already, their notices of assessed fair market value.

This year, though, they shouldn't experience a nitroglycerin moment.

Unlike past notices that were based on real estate sales that sometimes were several years old, the new assessments will reflect January 2009 values.

Furthermore, Clallam County Assessor Pam Rushton revalued every one of the more than 50,000 parcels between Cape Flattery and Diamond Point.

"This is the first time we've ever done this," Rushton said in her office in the Clallam County Courthouse in Port Angeles.

"I want to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to look at their values and an opportunity to make sure they are correct."

Call with complaints

Rushton credited new software for her ability to assess the entire county. Physical inspections of properties will continue once every six years, with assessors looking for improvements - or dilapidation - that would affect values.

People who disagree with their properties' assessed values should call the assessor at 417-2228. Rushton is willing - eager, even - to explain how she arrived at the figures and correct them if needed.

The new notices are printed on whole sheets of paper, not last year's post cards whose ink was prone to smear.

Furthermore, they tell residents how to visit a Web site where they can track the assessments of any piece of property in the county. Some details of the site still are being worked out, Rushton said.

Taxes stay level

By law, assessments must be based on recent fair market prices. The county uses them to determine how much tax per $1,000 of valuation an owner must pay.

Typically, total taxes don't increase very much because governments only can increase their revenues by

1 percent per year. Exceptions occur where voters have lifted the levy lids.

Last year, people were shocked at their assessments because they were based on sales that preceded the over-the-cliff fall in real estate values.

"This year, we tried to get as close to the lien date (Jan. 1) as possible," Rushton said.

"We're trying very hard not to use sales from 2006 and 2007."

Land lost value

Most values will drop, she said. The value of all privately held real estate in Clallam County fell $30 million from 2008 to 2009.

Some properties' values may rise, however, because Rushton's office is assessing waterfront and water view properties closer to their real value, not the 60 to 70 percent of the past.

The increased value of such property is called the "marine influence."

Rushton emphasized that she does not levy taxes, only assesses properties' fair-market values.

Nevertheless, she urged owners with complaints or questions to contact her.

"No one knows a value better than the person looking at his or her own property," she said.

"If they have evidence to change our assessment, we want to see it."

Reach Jim Casey at

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