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ASSESSOR RECEIVES LITTLE SYMPATHY

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Chances are if you live in the Holladay area, you've seen your property taxes increase anywhere from 10 percent to 18 percent above what they were the last time the county assessor came around to establish the value of your home.

Last year, the Granite School District collected $1.6 million more in property taxes simply because property values were higher - a tax boost without increasing tax rates.But has all property in Holladay increased that much in value? Or if it has increased that much, has it increased the same amount in neighboring areas of Murray or Millcreek or Sandy? And were the increases fair and equitable?

As Salt Lake County property values continue to soar, Salt Lake County assessor Robert Yates has been a man under fire, and Wednesday he went before the first legislative Property Tax Task Force to answer critics and plead for help in making the property tax assessment process better.

Lawmakers were, quite frankly, not sympathetic. One suggested the state look at what Michigan did and abolish property taxes. Another suggested eliminating the constant reassessments in favor of a sort of sales tax on new home purchases.

"If there is another way to do it, we ought to look at it," said Rep. Ray Short, R-Salt Lake.

The Property Tax Task Force will examine the entire structure of how Utah assesses and collects property taxes, including its own mandate that county assessors reassess properties every five years.

Yates told the task force he would like to see a law, a "real estate transfer act," that would require the purchases of all residential and commercial property to disclose the sales prices and terms. That information would assist assessors in establishing actual values of property in any given area.

"In order to do the job we are sworn to do, we must have this information," Yates said, adding there is "no magic button to push" to get all the sales data.

But, as Senate President Lane Beattie, R-Bountiful, noted, the assessors already have access to about 90 percent of all residential sales data through the Multiple Listing Service.

"My computer does have a button I can push, and it tells me percentage increases (in property values) in any given area of the county," said Beattie, a real estate agent. "I can see a problem with commercial property, but you do have the information you need without mandating a Real Estate Transfer Act."

Yates has been criticized by property owners throughout the county who have found that a booming real estate market has boosted the values of their homes, consequently boosting their tax bills. Most recipients of that increase have chosen to pocket the windfall instead of lowering tax rates proportionally.

Yates argues that many property owners have enjoyed years of underpayment of property taxes prior to reassessment and that their opposition to the reassessment is only because they are being brought up to the level they should have been at long ago.

But lawmakers, responding to the complaints of voters, want to reexamine a system that particularly burdens the poor and those on fixed incomes. In the Holladay area, some homeowners are paying more in monthly property taxes than they once did in mortgage payments.