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Property tax, CAO and more covered at town hall

Orcas property is finally getting reevaluated.

“We got nailed at the top of the valuation curve,” said County Councilman Richard Fralick, Orcas East, during a town hall meeting on Nov. 19. “Assessed valuation should be 31 percent down now.”

Property tax is based on parcels’ assessed value as well as any levies approved by voters. Orcas Island was last reappraised in 2008, near the top of the real estate market, while other parts of the county were reappraised before or after the peak in market values.

Going forward, valuations will be annual and based on current market values. Properties will be physically assessed once every six years. The Washington Department of Revenue approved that change last November.

“It will lead to greater equity and uniformity among properties on different islands,” according to County Assessor Charles Zalmanek’s website.

Converting to an annual revaluation system does not necessarily mean a new assessment every year. If, after a review of the property sales and economic neighborhood, it appears that assessments are in line with recent sales, then no adjustment would be necessary.

“Since this will be done annually, adjustments will be more gradual than what we have seen in the past.  This will lead to better predictability in changes of our property tax bills,” Zalmanek wrote.

County budget

Fralick and County Councilwoman Patty Miller, Orcas West, advised the group that a county-wide discussion about the budget will be critical in the next few years.

“County government is growing faster than revenue,” Fralick said. “We need a planned, community conversation on where will the county will be in five to 10 years.”

In 2009, voters approved a property tax levy lid-lift, much of which was earmarked for specific county programs. In 2015, the levy would need to be renewed or county revenue would drop by $1 million per year.

Critical Areas Ordinance in home stretch

The county council is in the final phase of approving the long-awaited Critical Areas Ordinance. Deliberations are planned for  Dec. 3. If passed the CAO will become a law three months later.

The update of the regulations governing activities that affect areas and ecosystems considered “essential” to the safety, quality of life and environmental integrity of the county is mandated by state law. The updating process began in 2003 with an original deadline for completion in 2005.

Critical areas, as defined by state law, include wetlands, fish and wildlife habitat conservation areas, frequently flooded areas, geologically hazardous areas, and critical aquifer recharge areas.

Miller says the proposed CAO regulations are “scaled back” to address the public’s concern about property regulations that are potentially too constraining.

“What you see here is the result of that compromise,” Miller said. “This has been one of the most polarizing, controversial issues we have faced.”

Friends of the San Juans Attorney Kyle Loring wrote in a guest column last week that “San Juan County is on the verge of adopting one of the weakest critical areas ordinances in the Puget Sound region. The ordinance’s buffers are designed to allow 40 percent of all local pollution into our streams, lakes, and seas.”

To see the latest drafts of the CAO, visit: http://www.co.san-juan.wa.us/cao/documents.aspx.

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