Property taxes likely to rise despite decrease in values

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Taxpayers, unhappy with their preliminary property taxes notices, are venting to their government officials. Many homeowners may be troubled to find taxes going up even as the value of their home drops -- an increase that's due to a tax formula set by state law.

Because of that, a steady stream of phone calls poured into the Salt Lake County Assessor's Office Monday.

"They're not so worried about their property values going down. But the taxes have increased and there's a reall stink that comes with that. So, we've had a lot of phone calls [from people asking], ‘Why are my taxes up?" said Pete Lund, chief deputy assessor for Salt Lake County.

Three maps in the assessor's office tell the story. In 2007, the real estate market was roaring then the bottom fell out.

"In 2009 we saw significant decreases in value, with the residential going down almost 12 percent," said Salt Lake County Assessor Lee Gardner. The county saw 12 years of increases in property values, especially in '06 and '07, then a nearly 12 percent drop in 2009.

So, taxes on that property should go down too, right? Wrong.

"We want the services, and we've asked for the services, and we pay for them with the property tax," Gardner said. "And so if values go down, then the property tax rate has to go up so that each taxing entity gets the same amount of dollars they got the year prior."

In other words, most residential and commercial property values dropped in 2009. But to maintain the same services as last year, the tax rate must go up.

"The legislature has decided that this is the way to maintain a stable source of funding," Gardner said.

**Truth in Taxation**
*Why property taxes might go up despite reduced property value*Utah State property tax law requires: - When property values rise property tax rates must fall *and* -When property values fall property tax rates must rise. *However…* - If your value decreased more than the average decrease in value within your taxing entity, you should see a tax decrease. - If your value decreased less than the average decrease in value, you should see a tax increase.*-Salt Lake County Assessor*
Utah's truth in taxation laws can be simplified this way: the groups that get money from property taxes -- schools, police, firefighters, sanitation departments, and a long list of others -- are guaranteed a similar sum of property tax money each year. Bottom line: Thanks to that formula, if your property value decreased more than the average, you'll see a tax decrease. If it decreased less than average, your taxes will go up.

One of the hardest hit areas is likely to be in southwest part of Salt Lake County, where property values have decreased sharply but school taxes are going up sharply due to the split of the Jordan School District. The law aims to help equalize the way money is divided among schools.

The only thing a property owner can appeal on a current property tax notice is how much their property is worth.


Story compiled with contributions from John Daley and Randall Jeppesen.

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