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Story Last modified at 8:27 p.m. on Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Property values inch up
Little green cards show land, commercial real estate is flat

BY RINDI WHITE
For the Star

City property assessment notices landed in residents' mailboxes last week. Due in part to a slow real estate market, city officials said many residents wouldn't see a significant change in the value of their property.

Residential property values increased by about 1.5 percent across the Anchorage bowl, Municipality of Anchorage property assessor Marty McGee said. Property in Eagle River and Chugiak mostly held to that trend, he said.

"There will be some changes higher than 1 percent," cautioned McGee.

Some residential property assessments might change by 3 or 4 percent up or down, depending on their neighborhood and the condition of the property, he said. The difference might be greater if city assessors inspected the land and noticed improvements, such as a new deck or remodeling projects.

Last year, the average single-family home in Anchorage was valued at $312,000. This year, the average assessment is $316,600. Anchorage property values are holding up better than those in the rest of the nation, McGee said.

"We're in really good shape compared to most areas of the United States," he said.

LAND AND COMMERCIAL RATES FLAT

While residential property values increased slightly, values for commercial and raw land remained flat for Eagle River and Chugiak as well as the rest of the municipality.

"The general trend on commercial property is that operating expenses have gone up more than rents have. It's also very difficult to get financing to buy right now," McGee said. "That's kind of had a dampening effect on value."

A slowed construction cycle isn't helping. The city only issued half the number of permits for commercial construction projects last year than were approved in 2009, McGee said.

Raw land values were also flat. Large lots aren't being snatched up for new residential development very quickly right now and it can be difficult to get a loan for undeveloped property, he said.

If property assessments are relatively flat, that should mean residents could expect to pay about the same property tax they did last year. But property assessments are just part of the tax equation, Anchorage Assemblyman Bill Starr said. The city budget is the other key piece that determines how much residents will pay.

"My concern is the burden of spending. Even if assessments go down, that doesn't mean taxes will go down," Starr said.

Assemblywoman Debbie Ossiander said the Assembly has tentatively set the budget for the next year but hasn't locked in the mill rate, the part of the formula that determines individual taxes.

The Assembly will soon be dealing with first-quarter budget adjustments and will lock in the mill rate this spring.

At recent budget discussions city officials projected an increase of about $30 in taxes this year for the average homeowner, Ossiander said. If the budget stays on track, those numbers should hold.

Starr said he fears the Anchorage School District, whose spending makes up nearly half the city budget, will request more money than the Assembly initially agreed to give. If that happens, he said, taxes might exceed projections.

INSPECTED HOMES MAY JUMP IN VALUE

If yours was one of about 18,000 pieces of property assessors inspected in 2010, your assessed value might go up further.

McGee said his team of about 20 city assessors tries to visit each property in the municipality every six years. Assessors left door-hangers this year to notify residents if they stopped by.

Assessors make a broad sweep, covering neighborhoods from Eklutna to Portage instead of targeting an area at a time, he said. But they try to cover whole neighborhoods at a time, he said; if they stop at one house on a street they try to inspect every house on that street.

Of the 18,000 properties visited, more than 9,200 saw an assessment increase. McGee said that's largely due to improvements made since inspectors last visited.

Disagree with your assessment? McGee encouraged residents to review the information the city has about their property online at www.muni.org/departments/finance/property_appraisal or to call the office at 343-6770 and talk to a city assessor. If that doesn't resolve the issue residents can file an appeal by Feb. 14 and make their case to an appeals board.

"It's all about correcting the record right now and for the next 30 days," McGee said.

Rindi White is a Mat-Su freelance writer.



This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, January 26, 2011.