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Conflict persists regarding Nevada’s property tax practices

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By Phillip Moyer, Nevada News Bureau: Nevada property tax practices are still an issue of contention.

Incline Village resident Les Barta, who the State Board of Equalization regarding unconstitutional property taxes in 2008, complained that the new proposed regulations for Land Valuation discussed during a Department of Taxation Workshop last Friday have made no progress toward complying with the state Constitution’s requirement for a uniform and equal rate of property assessment..

The proposed regulations instruct assessors to use the standards in the 1990 edition of the International Association of Assessment Officers’ Property Appraisal and Assessment Administration, “except any specific provision […] that conflicts or is inconsistent with the laws of this state or any regulations adopted by the commission.”

Barta contends that since the IAAO manual has multiple standards for land assessment, this provision does not meet the constitutional requirement for a uniform assessment of property value.

“The IAAO is a great source, but [we need to] take the specific methods out of there and put them in the regulations,” Barta said during Friday’s meeting.

“You can’t say, ‘Well, you can use anything in the IAAO, and if we’re wrong we’ll change it later,'” he said. “That’s not a regulation. That’s carte blanche to do anything anyone wants to do.”

Reno Lawyer Suellen Fulstone, who also attended Friday’s meeting, agreed with Barta, saying the regulations under consideration are “misdirected.” She said that while the regulations address the Supreme Court’s wishes that the Tax Commission provide more direction to assessors, the multiple directives in the regulations make the uniformity problem worse.

“When everything is left to assessor judgment, you have a formula that cannot achieve uniformity,” she said. “I understand that there has to be a role for assessor judgment, I don’t disagree with that at all. At the same time, I think that given the constitutional requirement of uniformity, there has to be a way to structure the exercise of that judgment as to meet the requirement.”

Washoe County Assessor Joshua Wilson stated he believes the regulations do meet the requirement for equalization. Nevada State Law, Wilson said, requires assessors to use the valuation techniques listed in NRS 361.227. The alternative approaches in the IAAO manual, Wilson said, are meant to be used only if the standard valuation results in an assessment that is higher than market value.

“That is uniform and equal, and I think that is what is meant by that language,” Wilson said.

Wilson was critical of those complaining about the proposed regulations.
“To be honest, I’m not sure any regulations will satisfy the concerns of this particular group of taxpayers,” he said. “It’s just the way it is.”

Wilson expressed hope that some resolution could be reached, but believed that doing so may be difficult.

After the meeting, Barta voiced suspicion that the Department of Taxation and many Nevada assessors have no intention of complying with the Supreme Court’s mandates. To illustrate the “attitude of officials regarding the Court’s rulings,” he pointed to Wilson’s comments during a Board of equalization hearing on September 26, 2008, when Wilson dismissively referred to the complaints against assessment policies as “constitutional this and constitutional that.”

Barta said that the Supreme Court, concerned legislators, and concerned community leaders need to take “decisive action” to ensure that the Supreme Court’s rulings are followed.

“So far, the assessors are kind of like groundhogs on Groundhog Day. They come out of their holes, and they don’t see their shadow, and they don’t see any consequences, so they just go about getting bolder and bolder in terms of pursuing their own policies,” he said. “In my opinion, there has to be some serious consequences and serious responsibility for these people to actually follow what the courts, the statutes and the Constitution tell them to do.”

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