August 17, 2005 

coverz•Thankz•Taxez

coverz

Our third consecutive "number" cover finshes a series. The numbers 5-2-3 represent our new building's address and the printing plates from them will be used as our street numbers on Broad Street. While we did commission works, all three will still be sold at the original cover auction in November. Over the next several weeks, the outside of our building at 6th and Main will be transformed with paint, a metallic shell and a new sign. We can't wait.

Thankz

The Snake River Alliance would like to thank the more than 1,000 people who attended Department of Energy (DOE) hearings across Idaho and Wyoming. The DOE's plan to turn Idaho into the plutonium production capital of the U.S. is dangerous and fraught with community and worker safety concerns.

Despite continued assurances from the DOE, Plutonium-238 is dangerous and the form the DOE wants to use is the most dangerous to workers and communities. Since our government began plutonium production, a facility has yet to be built that can safely contain plutonium and protect public health.

While the DOE claims it has nearly a half-century of experience to learn from, as recently as this year, workers have been contaminated or carried contamination home to their families from DOE sites. The real lesson learned is that plutonium is a boomerang and it will always come back to bite us.

Idahoans have stopped dirty and dangerous projects before, and we will again. Please continue to get informed and active and consider submitting public comments to DOE by August 29. To learn more about plutonium in Idaho, visit www.snakeriveralliance.org.

Thanks again for saying NO to plutonium and YES to a clean and safe Idaho.

-Jeremy M. Maxand,

executive director,

Snake River Alliance

Taxez

Idaho is seeing its fifth property tax revolt in 27 years and the primary reason is the same as the reason for the previous four. Residential taxable values and taxes are rising much faster than the rate of total property tax collections.

This happens because homes are assessed on "market value," what they would sell for in the market. Different methods are used for other kinds of property, methods that discount the value of the property in relation to the method used for homes.

• In the last five years, residential taxes have risen 49 percent, while total property taxes are up 33 percent and total non-residential taxes 13 per cent. Residential taxes have risen 50 percent faster than tax collections and nearly four times as fast as non-residential taxes.

• Since 1990, with Idaho's population growing 38.5 percent, total residential taxes are up 224 percent. Total taxes are up 147 percent and non-residential taxes 80 percent.

• In 2004 total residential taxes increased $65 million, 10 per cent, while total non-residential taxes went down. Since 2000 the residential tax increase equals 85 per cent of the total increase.

In 1978, when residential taxes were shooting up, a special property tax committee concluded that the "market value" method unfairly inflates the taxable value of residential property. That committee called for a residential exemption to "mitigate the inequities."

The Legislature didn't enact a residential exemption. Later that year voters approved a 1 percent initiative. Responding to the initiative, the Legislature took steps to curb property taxes and diverted $25 million in state revenue to replace a portion of local levies.

Residential taxpayers didn't receive their share of the property tax relief because taxable values of homes continued to rise.

In 1982, voters approved a residential exemption initiative, 50 percent of the value of the house but not the lot, up to $50,000. The Legislature amended it to limit the exemption to owner-occupied homes.

The homeowner exemption restored balance to the tax system and allowed homeowners to share in the tax relief provided with state dollars.

However, with values rising rapidly in the 1990s, it became apparent that the $50,000 upper limit was too little. Bills to expand the exemption or to let it grow with inflation, were killed in legislative committee. More state money was diverted for school levy replacement, but taxes on homes continued to rise with increasing taxable value.

Now 40 percent of homeowners have "topped out" the $50,000 upper limit. They see the value of the homeowner exemption shrink each year, while their taxes rise at a faster rate. None of the increased assessed value is exempt.

There are no limits on the discounts given other kinds of property in the methods used to assess those properties, compared to the market value method for homes.

Residential rentals in complexes of five units or more are assessed as commercial property, based on income. Values and taxes are typically less than for similar rentals, homes through fourplexes, that are treated by assessors as residential property. In Ada County, they are 30 to 40 percent less.

An obvious solution to excess inflation in taxable value is to expand the homeowner exemption. This would not require increases in sales or income taxes to replace lost property tax revenue, as would be necessary with a 1 percent limit. Homeowners should not have to pay added taxes to restore balance to the tax system.

Another solution would be to treat homes the same as residential rentals that are classed as commercial. Assess homes on the basis of possible rental income. Values and taxes would grow more slowly. The income approach is used for most commercial property and for farm land. It could be used for homes.

-Ken Robison, Boise

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