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Assessor seeks to correct property roll errors

by KAYE THORNBRUGH
Staff Writer | February 28, 2024 1:07 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — Kootenai County Assessor Béla Kovacs has asked commissioners to correct errors on the property roll before a statutory deadline.

During a meeting with commissioners Tuesday morning, Kovacs said the end-of-year property roll prepared by the assessor’s office contained about 125 parcels with errors. For example, the homeowner’s exemption was “over-applied” to some parcels, exceeding the $125,000 cap. These errors are not expected to affect levy rates.

Because the deadline to make corrections to values set for the 2023 tax year has passed, Kovacs said the errors are beyond his power to fix.

“At a certain point, authority for the property roll transitions out of the hands of the assessors and into the hands of the commissioners,” he said.

He asked commissioners to help correct the errors through a combination of tax cancelations and “recovery” efforts. He said the errors must be corrected by Monday, the deadline for his office to deliver the “missed property roll” to the auditor’s office.

Under Idaho law, when an improperly claimed homeowner’s exemption is discovered, the assessor “must assess a recovery of property taxes, plus costs, late charges and interest.” However, if the extra exemption occurred due to county error, commissioners may waive the recovery of taxes.

Kovacs said he received guidance on the matter from Alan Dornfest, the Idaho State Tax Commission’s tax policy chief.

Dornfest confirmed Tuesday that it’s too late to correct property valuations that were set for 2023. But if some property owners overpaid their taxes, there’s a relatively simple fix, which Idaho law empowers county commissioners to implement.

“There’s a procedure in law for canceling taxes that shouldn’t have been paid,” he told The Press in a phone interview.

For the occupancy tax roll, however, it may not be too late. While the auditor must submit the property rolls to the Idaho State Tax Commission by the first Monday in March, the assessor need not deliver the occupancy tax roll until late June.

“That isn’t due yet,” Dornfest said.

Kovacs said the issues his office has identified “do not involve only occupancy tax.”

It’s unclear how the errors occurred. Kovacs pointed to the county’s computer system and noted the treasurer’s office is working to implement a fix.

Chief deputy treasurer Jill Smith said the assessor’s office lost significant institutional knowledge when a number of appraisal technicians quit their jobs last year.

“The system hasn’t changed,” she said Tuesday. “We were successful in previous years. What changed is we used to have appraisal techs. ... Even though there are dozens of documents in the system outlining what the techs did, those weren’t reviewed or followed, so the processes they had in place to make sure these issues didn’t happen didn’t occur this year.”

Kovacs said the appraisal technicians who “abruptly resigned” did not leave behind documentation or instructions on certain work processes.

“It would be nice if those records would’ve transitioned,” he said.

When asked why the former appraisal technicians didn’t leave instructions, Kovacs alluded to the years of personnel problems that have marked his tenure in office.

“Perhaps if you read their letters that they made public, it might reveal what their intent was,” he said.

Smith said she wants property owners to know county staff are working hard to provide accurate valuation and tax information.

“As a taxpayer, I want to see the bill and I want it to be right,” she said. “I don’t want to send a bill knowing it’s wrong and that we’re going to change it in a month or two. We want the people of Kootenai County to be able to trust their property tax assessment and tax system.”