Sometimes, mistakes can be extremely taxing

I once heard a clever line on an old Western TV show. When the sheriff of a town was praised by the town mayor, the sheriff responded, "Don't expect too much, last time I tried walking on water, I almost drowned."

That's how I felt over a story I wrote recently on the Storey County budget.

I couldn't go to the county's budget meeting, because I had to cover the Lyon County Commissioners, so I had to rely on a few spreadsheets, someone else's notes and a few calls to County Manager Pat Whitten to write the story, which indicated that taxes would decrease by 3.23 cents per $100 valuation for Storey County property owners.

I really thought he said that.

I was mistaken.

What he said, it turned out, was that the property tax RATE would be cut, which doesn't automatically translate into a tax cut for Storey County property owners.

Storey County Assessor Kathy Weeks called to correct me, and we ran a correction the following day.

She said only people who have vacant land already at full value, or new construction, will have a tax break; because of the state's tax cap enacted in 2005, existing homes are taxed at a previously lower value. Those homeowners' taxes will increase at 3 percent a year until they are paying taxes on the full taxable value.

She said home values have increased since 2005, but will still go up 3 percent a year until the property is taxed at full value.

Make sense?

Weeks explained it this way:

"If a house is valued at $300,000, but it was capped at $200,000, their taxes can only go up 3 percent a year, but they will continue to go up until they reach the full value of the property."

Vacant land is capped at 8 percent, but a lot already at full value will see a tax cut. Those whose property value is still increasing, will see a tax increase up to the 8 percent cap.

New construction is outside the cap, so someone building a new home will benefit from the rate cut, she said.

She said the majority of single-family homeowners are paying taxes on far less than what their property is really worth.

So the reduction in the tax rate doesn't equate to a lower tax bill, she said, until a homeowner is paying taxes on the whole value of their home.

After the story was written, I received a congratulatory e-mail from a reader, who thought more good news needed to be printed.

I had to tell him the story contained a mistake. Now I know how that sheriff felt.

• Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at or 881-7351.


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