Tax reform battle continues despite cap

The victory 1,200 Incline Village property owners won early this year may be short-lived if the Nevada Board of Equalization overturns the decision in a hearing Monday.

"When we won the hearing at the state board, it was in the face of overwhelming odds," said Les Barta, board member for the Village League to Save Incline Assets. "The burden of proof is on the assessor's office now."

The Washoe County Board of Equalization ruled in February to reduce the assessment by 8 percent, said Maryanne Ingemanson, president of the tax revolt group.

"The county board of equalization did not take away the 8 percent increase," she said. "They only reduced the assessment by 8 percent for the 1,200 appellants."

Tom Hall, attorney for the group, filed a motion on Monday to stay the hearing, and he filed a brief with the state board of equalization.

"(Officials) attempted to use illegally adopted regulations," Hall said.

Barta said state and local tax officials have no respect for regulations and rules.

"They have to know we're not going to accept (the hearing)," he said.

"When they recognize their errors, we'll stop. We'll take new legal actions until government officials correct their mistakes. We simply seek justice."

Assessors' use of the tear-down method, view classifications and a time-adjustment system represent the most important of their improper actions, according to Barta. In addition, the group charges the assessor's office with not complying with statutes passed into law in August 2004 - statutes that address the above concerns.

"After 33 hearings the rules changed, and the county board did not follow them," Ingemanson said.

Although Washoe County Assessor McGowen said he sympathizes with the enormous property tax bills many Incline Village residents receive, he said the county assessor's office is not responsible for fixing the 8 percent figure.

"It's not our choice," said Bob McGowen, Washoe County Assessor. "The 8 percent (increase) was given to us by the state."

There has been no evidence presented that what we have done is improper.

"The real question is, what is the right number (if it isn't 8 percent)?" McGowen asked.

McGowen said the state audits the county assessor's office every three years by conducting a ratio study. Every county gets audited, and the study includes management practices, he said.

The only negative comment I've ever had is that I'm not aggressive enough in assessing private property," McGowen said.

The study by the Nevada Department of Taxation plus the rules of the Nevada Tax Commission ensure the county assessor's office is on target, he said.

"All we want to do is do it right," McGowen insisted. "After all, we don't work on commission."

The Nevada Legislature passed Assembly Bill 489 on April 6, which caps the tax on primary residences at 3 percent (or 6.9 percent for other Washoe County property; 8 percent for other Nevada property).

But league members contend the cap is merely temporary.

"Those numbers are outrageous," McGowen agreed. "But that's the market."

Some argue that because legislators voted in favor of a tax cap, there is no need to continue to fight for fair treatment in assessing property tax, but after attending many tax workshops and meetings, the tax protesters see a need for further reform.

"We're looking for a much more reliable and more all-encompassing solution than the temporary relief of the 3 percent cap, " Barta said.

This is perhaps the one area where the assessor agrees with the protesters.

McGowen said legislators may choose to change the cap as disputes and lawsuits begin to occur.

"I think they'll try to tweak it," he said.

McGowen admitted the battle is not over.

"It's not going to be an easy one," he said. "They've got the time and the money."


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