Tax officials urged to tighten, standardize assessment rules
The Taxation Department was told Thursday every assessor in the state is interpreting the rules for determining property values differently and that they should require assessors to all use the same methods.
“What I see is a quagmire developing because the rules adopted by the Nevada Tax Commission are not clear,” said lawyer Thomas Hall, who represents a group of Incline Village residents protesting their property tax bills. “The system is going to be held hostage by not having a rulebook.”
He was joined by Les Barta, one of the leaders of the fight over assessments at Incline Village, and Norm Azevedo who represents 28 Lake Tahoe residents in their tax battle. They said different assessors are using completely different methods of figuring the taxable value of properties in their jurisdictions and that the result is unfair, unequal tax bills to home owners around the state.
Disputes over differing methods used and the apparent inequities they produce are driving numerous lawsuits against assessors, they argued.
But assessors who attended the workshop cautioned against imposing rigid uniformity on them.
“There’s no way the tax commission is going to be able to say, ‘This is how you have to do it,'” said Carson Assessor Dave Dawley after the meeting.
He said there are far too many variables to take into account in valuing property and that assessors must have some flexibility in which method to use.
“We have to be able to use our judgment,” said Douglas Assessor Doug Sonneman.
John Parra of Sonneman’s office said when they reappraised Tahoe Basin properties in Douglas this year, “we had to use four different methods.” He said without that flexibility, the office wouldn’t be able to determine a fair value for all properties because there are so many different factors to consider.
Josh Wilson representing the Washoe Assessor’s Office said there is no way the regulations could cover every variable and element in the standardized guides to assessment practice. He said he believes they are following the regulations and, if the state disagrees, they should spell out the proper way to interpret the rules. But he too said assessors need to be able to use their judgment.
But all of them including Taxation Director Chuck Chinnock challenged Barta’s claim that the assessors and state should recognize every property has “untaxable value” that reduces taxable value significantly below market value.
“There is an element of value – the market value of improvements – that was not intended to be taxed,” Barta said.
He said he intended to make the argument to the Nevada Supreme Court in one of his taxation cases that the Legislature intended taxable value of improvements on a piece of property to be no more than the depreciated cost of materials and labor. He said that would exclude a number of things now included in determining the value of improvements and would effectively lower everyone’s taxable value.
Chinnock rejected that concept saying “I’ve never seen an untaxable value of land, an intangible value.”
The issue of what changes to make in the rules assessors must follow will be taken up by the full Tax Commission on March 13.
— Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 687-8750.