The price of freedom is coming to your mailbox very soon

Oct 19 2011 - 9:57pm

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Charles Trentleman
Charles Trentleman

Let me get this out front: Don't yell at the clerks in your county treasurer's office about your property taxes.

Don't pay in dollar bills.

Don't strip naked and wear a barrel.

Don't even slam the check down and scream that, by God, if Sarah Palin were president, things would be different.

It's your fault. You could have had mud roads, stupid kids and typhus, but no, you wanted educated children, paved roads and clean water. Next you'll want police protection, and who's going to pay for that?

You.

It is time again for that part of democracy and freedom in America that is formally known as "paying for it."

We can't all be Congress and borrow from China. Weber County mails its property tax bills Friday. Davis County posts them Oct. 28. Box Elder and Morgan counties, any day now.

Yeah, it's a lot of money. You get smacked for $1,200 (my bill) or whatever. Most counties now offer a monthly payment option, like buying cell phone service, only cell phones can easily cost more and don't pave your street.

Ugly as your tax bill will be, it could be worse. You could live in Ogden Valley and it could be 2007.

That was the height of the housing boom. I was chatting with Weber County Assessor John Ulibarri about that the other day. The boom missed Top of Utah except for a few bench areas and Ogden Valley. There, rich Californians blew the market sky high.

"Remember when those widows in Huntsville discovered they lived in million-dollar homes?" I asked John. "Have those values come down?"

"Have they ever!" He said Ogden Valley lost $690 million in appraised value in two years.

So everyone's taxes plunged, right?

Not really. That $690 million works out to about $100,000 per parcel. Take $100,000 off a million-dollar home, it's still expensive.

This leaves Ogden Valley homeowners wondering when the housing bust is going to help them.

I looked up one home in Huntsville whose value more than doubled between 2004 and 2007, from $179,000 to $410,000. The value of this home this year is only down to $346,000, about $64,000 from the peak, but still 93 percent above what it was six years ago.

Considering that the home next door could be in foreclosure, this is a puzzle.

Ulibarri said assessed value isn't what a place sold for under foreclosure. It's a reflection of what it ought to sell for in a fair market. Ogden Valley has lots of foreclosed properties but is still a desirable place to live.

The bottom line: Why should someone who buys a foreclosed home for 5 cents on the dollar pay 5-cent taxes? Why should their neighbors carry an outsized burden?

Ron Gault has been on the Huntsville Planning Commission forever. He owns the home I used for the earlier example.

His taxes did go up when his home's value doubled, he said, and now have not dropped.

"I could appeal it if I thought it was way out of line," he said. "And I believe everyone's is a little out of line because of sales lately."

But there's a snag.

If Ron sells, he wants his home value high. Plus Ron, who has worked in government for years, has another perspective.

"I have learned a great truth," he said. "We cannot provide services without money to pay for them. Therefore, we have to have tax revenue, and I haven't met a person yet who wants their services reduced in quality."

That includes me.

So I will grumble a bit, but I will pay.

Wasatch Rambler is the opinion of Charles Trentelman. You can call him at 801-625-4232 or email ctrentelman@standard.net. He also blogs at www.standard.net.

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