On July 15, the following news headline appeared in The Tribune: "Utah property taxes bring in $100 million less than owed." This came from State Auditor John Dougall, whose campaign claim was "frugal Dougall." I saw the headline as a warning that property taxes may be higher when the assessments arrived in August, but I was not prepared for the type of increases that are being assessed.
My property value increased by 32 percent and my property taxes jumped more than $500. As I began my search for answers and comparisons to justify this type of increase, I have learned that the assessments seem to fluctuate quite dramatically from one neighbor to the next.
One of my neighbor’s property values increased 68 percent and his taxes jumped $700 while homes on each side of him decreased 10 percent. Further comparisons of more than 40 properties throughout the neighborhood showed many fluctuations from one neighbor to the next as well as inconsistencies in the records in the assessor’s office, including property types which differentiate if a property is a residence, duplex or multi-unit complex.
My first trip to the Salt Lake County Assessor’s office provided few answers to my questions. On my second trip to the assessor’s office, I asked to see the property comparisons that would justify this type of increase. I was told that they could not supply that information because Utah was a "Non-Disclosure State," meaning that these records were confidential. If I appealed the tax assessment, then this information would only be provided at the hearing by the board of equalization.
This is equivalent to having to go to court after being charged with a crime and not being provided the discovery documents which state the evidence they have on the case. The property tax owner must provide comparisons of other properties sold from Jan. 1, 2013 through Jan. 1, 2014 to argue their case.
I made one more trip to the assessor’s office and asked if they would provide the addresses of the properties to justify my increase. I was told no, but they could provide the streets these properties were on.
In my case, I own and occupy a duplex in the Liberty Park area, and as the auditor attempted to supply that information, he kept expanding his search to other areas to justify the increase. Eventually the area extended from 300 to 1300 East and 900 to 2300 South. Having been a realtor for several years and having run comparisons to justify the sale prices of properties on the market, this tactic is not a justifiable comparison. Comparing property at 400 East and 1000 South to property on 1300 East and 2300 South would not be acceptable for sale prices.
If you have seen a substantial increase in your property taxes, I would suggest you compare them to others in your neighborhood and challenge them. The assessor’s office is betting that most property owners will not challenge them and will just pay the taxes.
I find not only the evaluations but the assessor’s data base questionable and full of inaccuracies. You can search property records at http://assessor.slco.org/. Property owners must file appeals to the Salt Lake Board of Equalization before Sept. 15th. It also might be time to contact your state representation and request this non-disclosure law be changed and the county assessor’s database be audited.
Dan Entler lives in Salt Lake City and is an adjunct instructor at Salt Lake Community College.
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