This March 2020 photo shows Juneau’s City Hall. Friday was the first day for candidates to file for October’s municipal election. By the end of the day, only one certified candidate was listed on the CBJ website. However, all three Assembly members with expiring terms said they intent to run again. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)

This March 2020 photo shows Juneau’s City Hall. Friday was the first day for candidates to file for October’s municipal election. By the end of the day, only one certified candidate was listed on the CBJ website. However, all three Assembly members with expiring terms said they intent to run again. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)

A unique challenge to huge hike in assessments

Owner wants Juneau Assembly, not courts, to resolve dispute about property values.

A 50% hike in local commercial property tax assessments a year ago not surprisingly resulted in a massive number of incensed appeals, nearly all unsuccessful. But a breach in the wall may have been unearthed by one property owner, as the Juneau Assembly voted Monday to consider his appeals after learning there are conflicts in city ordinances related to his complaint.

Greg Adler, on behalf of Goldstein Improvement Co., is challenging assessments made this year on two downtown properties (plus others not considered by the Assembly), including filing appeals on them in state Superior Court on Monday. He also requested the Assembly consider the appeals based on what he alleged is “fraud, improper, excessive, and unequal valuation including methodology by the Juneau Assessor; including but not limited to factual errors such as square feet used in valuations.”

One property on Front Street has an assessed 2022 value of roughly $2.1 million and another on Seward Street about $1.93 million, both of which remained unchanged after the initial appeals process. Adler said those assessments far exceed the purchase prices and actual value of the properties — thus making the taxes on them equally disproportionate.

While Adler’s accusations suggest willfully wrongful action by the city assessor’s office, department officials have stated the 50% hike is one in a series of steps to remedy a decade of neglect in annual commercial assessments. Members of the city’s Board of Equalization, which hears the assessment appeals, have also stated many property owners making appeals aren’t fully informed about how assessments are made and many objections are more emotional than fact-based.

For the Assembly, which unanimously approved accepting the appeals on a limited basis, the first question is whether they have the authority to do so after being told by City Attorney Robert Palmer that “two charter items are involved that are possibly in conflict.”

Put simply, one rule declares appeals of Board of Equalization rules about valuation need to be done in court rather than by the Assembly. The other rule deals with two provisions suggesting the Assembly may be allowed to consider the matter, but in a way that falls outside the legal timelime for filing a court challenge.

“Thus, by appealing a valuation decision to the Assembly you may be limiting your ability to appeal that valuation decision to Superior Court,” City Clerk Beth McEwen wrote in a notice to Adler before Monday’s meeting.

So for now the next step for Assembly members is awaiting the city attorney’s assessment.

“I think we should accept this appeal, but only to get briefed about jurisdictional issues,” Deputy Mayor Maria Gladziszewski said. “There are clearly three conflicting things before we even get to the merits of the appeal.”

Nearly 20 appeals of local commercial assessments since the 50% hike had been filed in Superior Court as of late June. Palmer, in an email Monday, said Adler is taking a unique step beyond the perceived legal process.

“Mr. Adler is the only taxpayer in memory to appeal a valuation issue (from the Board of Equalization) to the Assembly,” Palmer wrote. “For example, the commercial property appeals from last year were appealed from the Board of Equalization to Superior Court consistent with state law. Thus, Mr. Adler’s Assembly appeal would not affect any of those Superior Court appeals.”

For Adler the Assembly’s willingness to learn if they can take up the matter is of little comfort while his assessments are being challenged.

“My family are pioneers in Juneau, we love Juneau so protecting the Juneau community from the money grab, greed and corruption in the Assessor’s Office is of fundamental importance to us,” he wrote in an email Tuesday. “Last night’s Assembly hearing was about procedure, which attempts to shut down the truth, but the truth will come out and the bad stuff going on in the Assessor’s Office that bureaucrats hide.”

Furthermore, Adler stated the rule stating appeals must be filed in court is “a denial of due process rights.”

“Suing is expensive, time-consuming and unpredictable,” he wrote. “Most appellants will not sue, the (Board of Equalization) has wrongfully stated appellants’ rights. There are more non-judicial options, and are applicable and good public policy.”

If the Assembly does take further action on the two properties, Adler has issued written notices to members stating a hearing officer should be appointed to consider the matter .

“In the interim, we request our property taxes and all property tax payers be assessed at 2020 assessments levels; that an Oversight Board be appointed to watch over the Hearing Officer with an equal number of members coming from commercial property owners; all appeal rights are stayed, including the obligation to file legal actions in Superior Court,” he wrote.

Contact reporter Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com.

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