Number One Concern: February 2005
PROPERTY TAX: NUMBER ONE CONCERN
by Bob Lynn
Representative for House District 31
I enjoy phoning constituents. I’m already up to more than a hundred calls since the beginning of this session on January 10th. I usually begin the phone call with the question, “Do you have any questions, complaints, or concerns?”
I get some very interesting responses on a variety of subjects, and it’s always helpful. The better the communication the better the representation. Favorite topics of my constituents used to involve the fiscal plan (or lack thereof), location of the capitol, and other perennial questions.
This year, however, there’s a shift in constituent concerns, at least in my South Anchorage District 31. About every third constituent vents their frustration, anger, and even fear, about increased residential property taxes. When constituents speak I listen.
A middle aged constituent I phoned last week expressed his fear, shared by many, of becoming “property poor.” When he retires he’ll have a fixed income. As his property value increases, his property tax bill will become a higher and higher percentage of his income. The bottom line: if property taxes continue to climb without some kind of relief to homeowners, we’ll start chasing people out of the state.
Obviously, our first priority must be to maintain disabled veteran and senior property tax exemptions. We should also consider raising those exemptions (I hereby report a conflict of interest. I’m a senior!), especially since the elimination of the longevity bonus.
In anticipation of screams from municipalities, I don’t think onerous property tax is strictly a municipal issue and that state legislators should keep their nose out of the problem. When homeowners get hurt, everybody in the state suffers, and I’m a state representative. I’m a strong believer in local control, but I also believe Alaska is one big family and we need to work together to resolve family problems. I have some recommendations.
First of all, lower the property tax appeal fee to 20 bucks, and do away with the fee for seniors and the disabled. The fee in Anchorage is currently $100 for most homes.
The municipality also puts the entire burden of proof that a property assessment is too high on the shoulders of the homeowner. Documents to “prove” the assessor was “wrong” must be submitted on a 15 day deadline or the appeal will be dismissed. Such requirements are a hardship for most homeowners, and discourage appeals (which may be the intent).
The paperwork and complexity involved in filing a property tax appeal is comparable to appealing your federal income tax liability. Come on now, is any of this fair or reasonable for someone’s 80 year old grandmother living alone?
Secondly, reduction of state revenue hurts Anchorage and contributes to high property taxes. Something needs to be done. Let’s consider using a portion of state earnings from the 424 million dollar Amerada Hess Fund (about 30 million a year) to help fund state revenue sharing to Anchorage and other municipalities and help lower property taxes.