Proposed county tax causes confusion

By Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer February 20, 2013 11:30 am

This property tax statement, from a resident in unincorporated Curry County, indicates the homeowner paid $1,959.45 last year. Approval of the May ballot question would increase that bill $543 to $2,502.45 — an amount, the taxpayer said, he’d be willing to pay for adequate county services.
This property tax statement, from a resident in unincorporated Curry County, indicates the homeowner paid $1,959.45 last year. Approval of the May ballot question would increase that bill $543 to $2,502.45 — an amount, the taxpayer said, he’d be willing to pay for adequate county services.
There is a whole lot of confusion about the recently announced May 21 tax levy if letters, phone calls, emails and visits to the Pilot are any indication.

Many concerned residents cite examples of their property tax rates, most with erroneous information and bad math. Others say they don’t see the value in county services. Some think more fat can be cut from the county budget. They think county employees make too much money. Others still think the federal government will bail out Curry County again.

The questions, accusations and assumptions go on and on, stated County Assessor and Tax Collector Jim Kolen, particularly people’s false assumption that tax bills will quadruple.

Bobbie Gross was one of them.

She had already budgeted her annual household finances for 2013 to include the possibility the tax levy will be approved. She did that by deducing that $1.97 per $1,000 assessed valuation is about four times the .59 cents she pays to the county now. So she multiplied her total taxes (includes those earmarked for special districts in her area) by four and came up with what she thought was an outrageous — and unfounded — amount.

“I simply looked at the whole tax bill, and I did it wrong,” she said with a laugh. “I’ve got to go back and refigure. But now it’ll come out in my favor.”

Gross isn’t the only one confused about how the tax is figured.

Another resident extrapolated it in reverse, figuring that if it takes $3.6 million to run the sheriff’s office, that means it costs $69,230 a week, or $1,610 a day — “a bit too much to spend at this time!” he wrote — to house an inmate in the jail.

However, he didn’t include many variables, from the number of inmates to the electric bill, and failed to understand that the money will also go to public safety services outside of the jail, such as the district attorney’s office, search and rescue, patrol and 911 dispatch.

Seemingly the biggest error most citizens are making is that they assume the tax increase on the ballot will affect the amount of money paid by homeowners that is passed through the county to special districts — the bulk of one’s property bill. And that is just not so, Kolen said.

The total amount of tax collected by the county is $6.85 per $1,000 assessed valuation (AV) for every property owner in the county, with an additional $3.73 per $1,000 AV for those living in Brookings, $2.336 per $1,000 AV in Gold Beach and $3.72 per $1,000 AV in Port Orford. 

Of the $6.85 per $1,000 that everyone pays, 59 cents is a permanent tax that funds basic government operations. If the levy passes to fund the law enforcement portion of the county budget, which takes up the bulk of the general fund, the 59 cents would remain in place to fund the other services the county provides.

The remaining money — $6.26 per $1,000 AV — goes to special districts: the libraries, fire departments, ports, 4-H, schools and other special districts, and merely passes through the county before it is paid to those districts.

The county is placing on the ballot a question asking voters to approve a split levy of $1.84 for homeowners inside city limits — Brookings, Gold Beach and Port Orford — and $1.97 for those living in the unincorporated parts of Curry County to pay for public safety.

If approved, the total those in rural areas will pay is $8.82 per $1,000 AV. Those living in Brookings will pay $10.58 per $1,000 AV; those in Port Orford would have a total tax of $10.57 per $1,000; and Gold Beach property owners would pay a total of $9.18 per $1,000 AV. 

An assessor’s view

Kolen realizes people are confused.

He said the median assessed valuation (AV) for single-family homes in the city of Brookings is almost $180,000. The owner of that $180,000 home will pay $1,905 a year in taxes this year, of which $834 is collected for and distributed to the City of Brookings, $858 to schools (including the Educational Service District and Southwestern Oregon Community College) and a total of $113 to other districts (library, port, cemetery and 4-H Extension). The remaining $100 goes to the county’s general fund.

If the County Law Enforcement Five-Year Split Operating Levy — the ballot measure — is approved by voters, Kolen said, the in-city (urban) tax rate for county law enforcement services would increase by $1.84 per thousand AV — an annual tax increase of $331 on that $180,000 home.

The total collected for county services would be $431 — the new $331 plus the old $100 — as compared to the unchanged amounts of $834 for the city, $858 for schools and $113 for all other districts.

While it is almost a quadrupling of the 59 cents per $1,000 AV paid to the county, it only represents a 27.2 percent increase in overall property taxes. And, Kolen and county commissioners point out, that tax rate would still leave Curry County with the second-lowest property tax rate in Oregon.

Curry County isn’t the only one in Oregon putting a tax levy on the ballot.

Josephine County — with the lowest permanent property tax rate of 58 cents per $1,000 AV — is asking voters to approve a $1.48 per $1,000 AV levy to fund law enforcement, including the jail and the DA’s office.

Lane County will ask voters — for the 10th time — in May to increase their permanent property tax base of $1.28 per $1,000 AV by 55 cents, to reopen more beds in the jail, where the situation has become a “revolving door.”

Curry County property owners with questions are encouraged to use the county website or contact the Assessor/Tax Collector’s office, at 541-247-3294, for assistance in estimating these calculations and any other questions.