CATHLAMET — In a public meeting on Oct. 8, Wahkiakum County Assessor Bill Coons will provide the county Board of Equalization (BOE) with a briefing on the mass appraisal model being used to facilitate the now-annual, county-wide property assessments. The briefing will also focus on the 2014 assessments for Puget Island properties. The meeting will take place in the River Street room, 25 River St., and will run from 10 a.m. to noon.

The Washington Legislature mandated that all counties in the state must perform annual county-wide assessments starting in 2014. Previously, Wahkiakum County only assessed one of four regions each year. In that way, an assessment stayed the same for four years unless affected by new construction or other such factors in the interim. As a result, property owners in some parts of the county, assessed at the peak of the past inflationary period, were unable to see adjustments to their assessments even though values dropped drastically during the economic downturn. Annual assessments are intended to insure property valuations more closely track economic trends.

“Mass appraisal utilizes a valuation model, statistical analysis of sales data against that model, and model adjustment until the model reflects reality as revealed by the sales data,” Coons said.

Mass appraisal is intended to assist the assessor in valuing properties without having to perform actual on-site inspections of every property each year. In Wahkiakum County, the assessor will continue to conduct on-site inspections of one of the four regions each year. Thus, for each property, out of every four years, one assessment will be based upon an actual inspection and three assessments will be based upon statistical modeling.

Coons reports, “Without a tool like mass appraisal, it would be impossible for an office of our size to meet the legislature’s requirement for annual valuations of every property in the county along with my goal of valuations that are accurate and, above all, fair. Revaluing the entire county was a huge task. Our approach will only get better over time, and it would not have been possible without the excellent work of my staff, Sharon Deaton, Michelle Budd, and Marsha Souvenir.”

“It’s a bit of a double-edged sword” said BOE Chairman Bob Rendler. “The modelling approach makes annual county-wide assessments possible, which is a good thing. At the same time, it is a complicated and broad-brush approach. We are now conducting hearings on appeals of assessments generated for the first time using this statistical analysis. We are pleased to see the number of appeals is less than we had anticipated, however, a number of them are considerably more complex than those of past years. We are extremely interested in the briefing and appreciate Mr. Coons taking the time to do it.”

BOE Secretary Colleen Haley added, “While training for assessors in the use of the mass appraisal model was provided, no such training by the Department of Revenue has been provided for BOE members. That has made it more challenging for the board to make its determinations.”

A special challenge particular to Wahkiakum County is the low number of property transactions that have taken place within the county in recent years.

“Valid statistical analysis requires a fairly robust database” says BOE member Nick Nikkila. “I’m sympathetic to the challenge this presents to the assessor. At the same time, I find it difficult to accept that a statistical analysis of a very small data set can result in a single and absolute factor to be applied to hundreds of properties. Modeling presents the world in black and white, whereas the appeals reveal shades of gray in between. The diversity in properties in our county adds another dimension to the mass appraisal model.”

The River Street meeting room is located at 25 River Street, in the same building as the WSU Extension office, across the Brusco dock roadway from the PUD office.

The Wahkiakum BOE consists of Rendler (Cathlamet), Carol Cole (Puget Island), Patrick Dennis (Elochoman Valley) and Nikkila (Deep River). Haley, the secretary, is from Grays River. For further information about the public meeting, contact Colleen Haley at 465-2174 or Bill Coons at 795-3791.

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