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An unprecedented decision to roll back property assessments in the Holladay-Cottonwood area is unfair to everyone else in the county and will likely be overturned, Salt Lake County Assessor Robert Yates said Tuesday.

"It's a very, very bad mistake," Yates said. "No one else who's been reappraised has been given the same consideration. Fairness is fairness."The decision to slash 15 percent off the valuations of about 50,000 properties in one of the county's most affluent communities was made Tuesday by commissioners sitting as the Board of Equal-i-za-tion.

At a press conference announcing the action, the three commissioners argued that Holladay-Cottonwood can and should be treated differently because it was caught on the crest of rapidly rising property values.

Under the county's five-year reappraisal program, 20 percent of the county's approximately 250,000 properties are reappraised each year. The Holladay-Cottonwood area, along with Olympus Cove, the canyons and condominiums were reappraised in the final year of the last cycle.

"Those residential taxpayers who by the luck of the draw happen to be reappraised in a year of dramatic increase are exposed to major valuation increase without the benefit of a corresponding tax rate reduction," said Commission Chairman Jim Bradley.

Hit by property tax sticker shock, residents of the affected area have been protesting the reappraisal in public meetings, Board of Equalization hearings and other legal and administrative forums.

Faced with the closest thing to a tax revolt that the county has ever had, commissioners extended the deadline for tax appeals and tried to persuade Yates to apply the previous year's values to the 1993 Holladay-Cottonwood reappraisal. Yates balked and last week won the support of the State Tax Commission.

In a letter signed by all four tax commissioners, Bradley was warned that "we would be compelled to act to reverse any action to reduce properly established property values given current market trends."

The tax commissioners said the 1993 values for Holladay-Cottonwood were established through a "professionally managed reappraisal program and reflect a reasonable approximation of fair marker value."

Joined by commissioners Brent Overson and Randy Horiuchi, Bradley said the County Commission was prepared to contest the Tax Commission's position. "We each have a job to do, and part of our job is to ensure that there is fairness and equity in the reappraisal program," Bradley said.

He also said that in addition to the rollback, the County Commission will support Yates' decision to postpone the reappraisal of the Sandy-Draper area pending development of a system to reappraise all properties in the county at the same time.

And the commissioners will urge the Legislature to enact property tax reform to address "the impending shift of tax burden from commercial to residential properties" expected to occur as residential property values continue to soar.

Bradley said, "Failure to do so is to invite a populist property tax backlash in the urban areas of this state. The Legislature must also consider ways to mitigate, possibly through a percentage cap, the tax impact any residence can experience through reappraisal."

Yates, who is not seeking re-election, said that the commissioners' attempt to help Holladay-Cottonwood does nothing to solve the underlying flaws in the reappraisal system and will likely offend many residents who "aren't getting the same treatment."

He said, "I definitely expect the Tax Commission to take action quickly to stop the rollback process."

Under state law, valuation increases in one part of the county must be offset by decreases in the rest of the county. Overson, a former deputy assessor, said the 15 percent reduction in Holladay-Cottonwood will have a "negligible impact" on homeowners in other areas.