Curry County Assessor Jim Kolen and State Rep. David Brock Smith, R-Port Orford, testified before the Committee on Economic Development in Salem last week in an attempt to get funding to hire 1.5 full-time employees to help get Kolen’s office caught up with appraisals in the county.

Without them, Kolen said, the county is falling years behind in the work that garners additional tax revenue for schools, the county’s 40-plus special districts and the county. The two were supporting House Bill 2228, asking for $125,000 to hire assessors, and said the return on investment would far exceed the expense.

The idea for such a pilot program was presented in November 2017 when the assessor’s association met with the League of Oregon Cities, special districts, school officials and the Association of Oregon Counties.

The consensus, Kolen said, was to start a pilot program in Curry County because of its history of tracking properties and its ability to make estimates on the return on investment.

Funding for the program would include $75,000 from the state for the school’s portion, since those districts collect 60 percent of property taxes, and the remainder to be split proportionately among other special districts and the cities.

“We don’t have the resources to get out and do regular appraisals,” Kolen told the committee. “Prior to Measures 5 and 50, we were on a six-year cycle to keep up with inventory.”

And Curry County has lost money due to it.

“We do have resources (to assess) permitted changes, but in Curry County, many property owners are making changes to property — driveways, small sheds, converting porches and garages to new living areas (without required) building permits. If they (build) without taking out a building permit, we don’t become aware of it unless somebody tells us about them.”

He showed them a photo of a property for which the owner had taken a permit to build a garage with a living area upstairs. Several years later, it had been converted to a “full-on home,” Kolen said.

“What that causes for our districts … This year and the past five years, that’s $7,000 (in property taxes not paid),” Kolen said. “That means about $3,900 for schools, $2,700 for districts and $500 for the county. But from 2000 to 2010, there’s some $14,000 in foregone property taxes. That’s $7,800 for schools and $5,300 for districts.”

Another home his department stumbled upon was built in 2000.

“We got some of (the tax due),” Kolen said. “But there’s $8,600 in omitted property taxes the districts will never get.”

He cited an agriculture building — for which no permit is required — they discovered and for which they collected $6,000 in past due taxes.

Kolen has assessed 28 percent of taxable properties in the past seven years.

“In visiting, we found $20 million in unpermitted new property values,” Kolen said. “In Curry County, with an average assessed value of $8.82 per $1,000, that would raise $175,000. That’s more than $100,000 to schools, $63,000 to other districts and $11,000 to the county.

He estimates a 2.5 percent increase in assessed values to the overall tax rolls would result in $692,000 to the schools and $45,000 to the county.

“With 1.5 full-time (personnel), we could take our county from a 15 to 20-year cycle to a 6- to 8-year cycle and pick up that additional value so our districts are not losing the money.”

Others who spoke out in favor of the bill included representatives from the Association of Oregon Counties, the League of Oregon Cities and the Special District Association of Oregon.

The next slated action would be for the matter to be heard before the House Ways and Means Committee.