A group of Incline Village residents trying to forestall large increases in their property tax bills argued Tuesday that the county and state boards of equalization used an unfair process to deny their appeals.
Theodore Harris, his wife and a group of other landowners in Incline Village, which has some of the highest land values in the nation, have protested increased assessments and the resultant increased property tax bills of more than 40 percent in many cases.
The subject of Tuesday's debate before the high court was whether Washoe County gave landowners enough notice to prepare before their boards of equalization appeal hearings. In the Harris' case, lawyer Suellen Fulstone said they were told on Friday their appeal hearing was the following Tuesday.
She said statute gives the county two months each year to hear petitions challenging a new property tax assessment. She said there's no reason the county and state can't give homeowners the full 21-days notice allowed under Nevada law. To deny that, she said, violates the land owners' constitutional rights.
But Washoe County Deputy District Attorney Leslie Admirand said the petitions aren't actually due until Jan. 15, and that state law requires all hearings be completed in just 45 days after that. She said with more than 1,200 appeals, that puts severe pressure on the county to complete the process.
She also rejected the constitutional argument: "These are not rights and privileges being denied. There is no disciplinary action, no property being taken."
Admirand said the action is against the property, not the owner.
"Any action goes against the property," she said. "We're looking at the attributes of the property, not the individual."
But the property owners seemed to get some support from at least two members of the court. Justice Bob Rose said with such short notice in cases such as the Harris', there isn't even enough time to get expert witnesses lined up and a case prepared.
Justice Bill Maupin described the deadlines as "a very good system for the government because the short window has a chilling effect on petitions."
The high court took the case under submission.
Admirand said afterward if the court invalidates the boards of equalization decisions, it could also invalidate any reductions in property taxes approved during the process.
But Fulstone disagreed, saying she believes only those property owners who are part of the lawsuit would win relief. That relief, she said, should be a new hearing on their individual cases.
The case could also have ramifications beyond Incline Village. Douglas County residents along the Nevada side of the Tahoe Basin are also protesting tax bill increases as high as 60 percent ordered by the assessor this year. If the Incline lawsuit is successful, those homeowners could be expected to file a similar action to at least delay any increases in their property tax bills.
Contact Geoff Dornan at email@example.com or 687-8750.