Clallam assessor's letter raises concern

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — A Jan. 31 letter from the Clallam County Assessor's Office asking Karen Unger for her gross income and myriad business expenses caught her off guard.

The Port Angeles lawyer said last week she thought she was being required to provide all kinds of financial information that seemed unrelated to the county determining the value of her property, on which her property taxes are based.

County Assessor Pam Rushton said the letters were sent only to owners of multi-tenant properties — 11 in Port Angeles as of Friday — because the values of those properties are determined in part by the rental income they generate.

Her office is asking for the information, not demanding it, Rushton insisted.

“We don't force anyone to supply that information.”

Rushton said she will reword the letter to make it clear to property owners that they are not required to provide the business data.

Unger noted that the word “optional” is nowhere to be found in the current version of the letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Peninsula Daily News.

There is no indication at all that property owners are not required to submit the information, she added.

“Guess what? If someone gets it, they might not know that,” she said. “I think this letter is misleading.”

There also is nothing in the correspondence that says it was intended only for multi-tenant property owners such as Unger.

In the correspondence, property owners are told the county is appraising all commercial property in the area of 332 E. Fifth St. in downtown Port Angeles, where Unger has her law office.

“We solicit your cooperation in providing the information requested in the enclosed income and expense questionnaire,” it said.

“'Solicit your cooperation' does not sound very mandatory to me,” Rushton said in the interview.

Sales comparison, cost determined by replacement value and income “should” be utilized for the Assessor's Office to fairly and equitably appraise commercial property for its value, the letter said.

“Accordingly, it is important to know the gross income and expenses,” the letter said.

The legal basis for the request is contained in RCW 84.41.041, “which requires every person to make available all data relevant to the determination of an estimate of value,” the letter said.

At bottom of the letter from the Assessor's Office, in red, italicized, boldfaced letters, is the underlined statement, “Washington law requires in RCW 42.17.310 that the assessor keeps income information confidential.”

An income and expense questionnaire attached to the letter asks for potential gross income and actual income received; annual fixed expenses such as real estate tax expenditures, personal property tax expenditures, insurance expenditures, “other (specify)”; operating expenses for lawn and ground maintenance, electricity, water and sewer, garbage collection, cable TV, advertising and repair and maintenance; and administrative expenses such as management fees, commissions, legal and accounting expenses, and “other (specify).”

The RCW that requires property owners “to make available all data relevant to the determination of an estimate of value” does not include a mandate or option specifically to provide income or include any specific reference to income.

The “pertinent data” on taxable property in the RCW that was cited in the Assessor's Office letter includes data on the sale and purchase, the cost of improvements “and other facts necessary for appraisal of the property.”

A reference to income as it relates to property taxes is in RCW 84.40.030, Rushton said.

There, it says consideration “may be given” to “capitalization of income that would be derived
from prudent use of
the property.”

Hence, the letter was sent to rental property owners, she said.

Asking for income data “is an opportunity for us to let them have a third approach to determine value,” Rushton said.

“Our job is to be as accurate as we can be on your value,” she said. “That's why we give an option.”

The letter does not contain a deadline for providing the information.

“Since it's not mandatory, there's no timeline on there,” Rushton said.

Unger responded: “You tell me where optional is on that letter, where it says you do not have to provide that information.

“I think this letter was misleading, and it puts the average person who happens to own commercial property thinking that they've got to provide this information, that the statute requires it, and if they don't, they are in violation,” Unger said, adding that she has no intention of providing the information.

“I was like, 'You're kidding me.'”



Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at paul.gottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: February 10. 2013 6:01PM
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