(Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)

(Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)

Opinion: Mayor and assembly must rein in the assessor’s office

The unconscionable way the assessor’s office is treating commercial property owners must end.

  • By Greg Adler
  • Tuesday, November 15, 2022 3:44pm
  • Opinion

The mayor and Assembly must step in and fix what is obviously a broken, dysfunctional and deceptive assessment process in the assessor’s office.

The assessor led by City Manager Rori Watt has circumvented the mil rate which is capped and deceptively raised property taxes by raising assessed values on commercial property using a methodology not accepted by any professional organization.

CBJ annually puts out shiny, meaningless press releases that announce the mil rate is down. Property taxes are not going down. These bureaucrats are reaching into the pockets of hard-working commercial property owners to support their own self-aggrandizing agendas.

The assessor uses made-up, autocratic methodology to increase assessed levels thereby inflating borrowing capacity of the city on the backs of commercial property owners to obtain loans with absent collateral. This is wrongful by any standard.

The proposed new CBJ building and other projects would fleece lenders who rely on Juneau commercial property to collateralize loans. The actions of the city manager appear to follow an old playbook. Take a house, get an appraisal making it appear it’s worth double, get a loan and when you cannot pay the loan back enter bankruptcy because the house is wildly inflated. In this case, commercial property owners are holding the bag though they fight to contain the city manager.

The city manager must be held accountable for this wrongful financial engineering. The Assembly must step up and control the assessor and city manager.

The latest missive from the assessor’s office is an innocent-looking “Undated Letter” asking commercial property owners to provide a lot of data within 15 days. The 15-day notice reflects the heavy-handed and arbitrary way the assessor’s office goes about their business.

The assessor’s office now asks to set “Full and True Value” as of Jan, 1, 2023. The new “Full and True Value” deviates from previous years where “Assessed Value on Notice” with the threat of “Full Market Value (May be recommended to the BOE)” if a taxpayer appealed was used. The past standard was improper, but values used in both cases were improper and wildly high. That the Assessor is setting the stage for another property tax increase is outrageous.

This recent letter is a serious and bitter reminder to take the threats of the assessor seriously. It is crushing that the assessor wrangles inflated taxes from commercial property owners.

The latest monkey business attempts to get another 5% increase from taxpayers. The Assembly must stop sitting idly by, use their voice and power, to stop the foolhardy bureaucrat pushing this agenda.

At the core of this issue, for the company I am a part of and dozens of other property owners, is the issue of what standard is used to value property and the methodology that should be used to properly value the property.

The assessor’s office continuously shape-shifts the standards and methodology used to establish property values in our community.

The assessor’s office has significantly overvalued the property our company owns. Our company has provided the assessor with information and sales data about the value of property we own that was discarded. When we went before the CBJ Board of Equalization, the proceedings were a farce. Nothing we presented mattered. We presented written materials and an oral presentation about the objective value of our commercial property, including recent sales of property that were completely disregarded. The assessor had an agenda and a prepared script that governed the proceedings. If I hadn’t experienced such an undemocratic process personally and watched and heard the proceedings myself, I would say it could only happen in a banana republic.

For Juneau to thrive and not just survive, the unconscionable way the assessor’s office is treating commercial property owners must end. A critical assessment of the manner and methodology used by the Assessor’s Office is overdue. The odd manner used by the assessor’s office to obtain property values and set property taxes is artificial and disconnected from actual property values in the real world.

It’s past time to call out and hold accountable the bureaucrats in the assessor’s office and at City Hall who ignore objective property values and bully commercial property owners.

• Greg Adler is a principal in the Goldstein Improvement Co. His family has owned property and conducted business in Juneau since the 1880s. Adler and his family also own a home on Pioneer Avenue in West Juneau. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a My Turn or letter.

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