The first year of property tax outside the old city limits of Petersburg saw hundreds appeal their property values. However, in the end, an assessing firm hired by the new borough settled most of those appeals before they made it to the Board of Equalization this week.
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Remote private land owners in the new borough will have to pay property tax this year for the first time and that means putting a dollar amount on the land and any buildings and other improvements. The Appraisal Company of Alaska was contracted by the borough to value property over the past year. That firm’s Mike Renfro told the borough assembly members about his experience visiting properties outside the old city of Petersburg limits within the new borough. Renfro said valuing that land was more difficult than he thought it would be. “This is the fourth community I have done in an annex area. By far the largest,” Renfro said. “I thought Wrangell was going to be the largest that we ever did because it went all the way from Meyers Chuck and Farm Island. There was probably 30 percent of the parcels for this compared to the Petersburg borough. Distances were a little bit longer, well about the same, going down to Meyers Chuck. But again it sort of played like the movie, planes trains and… here it was helicopters and float planes and boats and four wheelers.”

Renfro’s firm looked at over 2,000 land improvements, which can be buildings or other development on a parcel. In total the company visited 978 parcels. Their work generated 213 appeals of property valuations, all but 20 of those were from property owners outside of service area one, the old city limits. Renfro said his initial values were too high on waterfront land in the new borough. “Because they were too high, which is on the bad side, they should’ve been lower, we got a lot more information,” he said. “So this coming year with that information and talking to a number of people, I think we’ll have maybe 10 percent of those appeals next year.”

In general, Renfro said land owners were welcoming although there were some who were not happy to see the tax assessor showing up. “There was a threat. And I felt instead of continuing forward and having a situation where I continued forward, this person was very aggravated that if he went and got a gun, then we’ve got a real problem and then somebody’s gonna get in trouble. There’s no reason for that to happen. I just avoided it. Used a telephoto lens and like I said that appeal was settled, they actually came in here and talked to Arne and it got taken care of. That was the only incident.”

Property tax notices were mailed out March 1st and people had until the end of the month to appeal. Most who did agreed to an adjusted value with the assessor by Wednesday’s meeting of the Board of Equalization. That group is made up of the borough assembly and it was chaired by acting mayor Cindi Lagoudakis. “Our purpose is not to change the assessment for the appellants. It’s only to listen to the reasons presented and either agree with the assessor or agree with the appellant,” Lagoudakis said at the start of the meeting.

There were only 16 appeals that were not resolved by Wednesday, although some of those were cases of people simply not responding to phone calls or email from the assessor. Only two people actually showed to make their case to the Board. One was Robert Murray, who sought a reduced valuation for his land at Keene Channel on Kupreanof Island. “Just valuing it on a straight doesn’t take into account the most important thing about waterfront property, the frontage. All of the other lots in my subdivision have an average frontage of 200 feet. My lot tends to be a little bit bigger because it’s pie shaped. It’s two lots wide on the back. That makes my frontage skinnier by about 10 percent compared to all of my neighbors. My contention is if I have 10 percent less frontage, my per-acre value should be 10 percent less.”

The assessing company’s Arne Erickson explained their thinking. “We assessed all the land in the channel in this subject area by size, rather than waterfront. And to maintain consistency, I did not consider waterfront in this appeal.”

The Board of Equalization upheld the recommendation of the assessor 5-0. That was the case in all the other outstanding appeals. In some cases the assessor agreed with the land owners and recommended a reduced value. The board also decided not to consider two appeals that were submitted late.