Editorial: Assessor deserves credit for education effort on tax bills

Lots of homeowners are going to see significant increases in their tax bills this fall, and Deschutes County Assessor Scot Langton is trying to head off outrage with education.

It’s a tough assignment, given the complexity of Oregon’s property tax laws, but Langton has provided a useful set of tools for those who want to understand rather than complain.

The county assessor has been working to get the word out about this impending shock for many months, making presentations to community groups and designing ways for taxpayers to access individual information online.

That individual information is critical, because issues are different even for similar properties in the same neighborhood. By going to www.deschutes.org/GraphIt, residents can see what has happened to their own property values. An eight-minute video explains how the intersection of real market value, assessed value and maximum assessed value affect tax bills.

Voter-approved measures limit increases in property taxes, generally allowing no more than a 3 percent increase in taxable value each year. Even when real market values soared, tax bills went up only modestly. But when market values plunged in the recession, some taxpayers continued to see modest increases while others saw their tax bills fall. Langton’s video does a good job of explaining how that could happen. (Don’t let the overly cutesy “Property Tax Fairy” turn you away.)

Now that market values are starting to recover, homeowners who saw a drop in their property tax bills during the recession are about to see a reversal when tax bills are sent in late October. Langton estimates that about half of properties will see increases of more than 3 percent, in some cases by sizable amounts.

Precise numbers for those assessments and taxes won’t be available until the bills are mailed Oct. 25, but a visit to the website can give homeowners a heads up on what’s happened to their property values and some understanding of their situation. Those without Internet access can visit the assessor’s office to get the information.

Langton deserves credit for anticipating taxpayer confusion and distress, and taking extensive steps to prepare. His efforts can be expected to lessen the severity of the storm to come in late October.