Priest Lake landowners mount tax revolt

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SANDPOINT — More than two dozen lawsuits have been filed by Priest Lake landowners who contend Bonner County is overvaluing their property.

A total of 27 suits against the county’s Board of Equalization have been filed in 1st District Court.

Each of the actions seek judicial review of their assessments and questions whether the county assessed valuations reflected fair market value, whether the county failed to consider proper measures of applicable land sales and whether it relied on incorrect or incomplete information when setting values. It also challenges the method the county uses to calculate waterfront footages.

A recurring theme in the litigation is the 2016 auction in which the former Idaho Department of Lands-owned lease were sold to the public. The petitioners contend their assessed valuations should reflect the valuates at the time they were auctioned, according to court documents.

The petitioners include landowners, estates, trusts and limited liability corporations.

Counsel for David and Sally Powers of Ritzville, Wash., said the couple’s property was assessed at $1.3 million in 2017. They appealed the assessment to county commissioners, who serve as the board of tax equalization, and argued that their parcel should be valued at $970,544, the sum it was valued at during the 2016 auction.

Coolin residents Richard and Lynn Vieth said the Bonner County Assessor’s Office valued their property $831,927 this year, up from the $642,999 value in 2016, according to their petition.

Post Falls residents Thomas and Sandra Clevenger appealed their $773,891 valuation, contending it should be $397,000 or $465,000. The latter sum was its value in the 2016 auction.

The board, however, refused to adjust the 2017 valuations.

“The requirement that all property be assessed at its actual cash value is secondary to the constitutional mandate of equality of taxation,” attorney Katie Elsaesser said in the petition.

It was not clear on Friday if there were additional suits because filings done in the Idaho Statewide Trial Court Records System were not showing up in the online Idaho Supreme Court’s Data Repository because of a technical glitch. The public can access the repository, but it can’t access ISTARS.

In 2010, the Idaho Land Board approved a plan to divest the state’s ownership of most cottage sites at Priest and Payette lakes over time in order to reinvest the proceeds into assets that generate higher returns than the rent from the lots.

In February 2016, the Land Board approved a plan that enables remaining lessees of residential cottage sites at the lakes to participate in auctions of the lots they lease before the end of 2019.

Keith Kinnaird can be reached by email at kkinnaird@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow him on Twitter @KeithDailyBee.

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