The Kootenai County prosecutor has determined a Spirit Lake resident can't appeal a property assessment on land he doesn't own, after analyzing Idaho statues and seeking other counties' advice.
"It was definitely worth taking the time, because it's a question that needed to be answered, for the board (of commissioners) and for the public," said Barry McHugh, county prosecuting attorney, who said he hasn't seen this situation come up before.
Larry Spencer, a Spirit Lake developer and vocal community activist, applied to appeal an assessment on Silverwood Theme Park property this month in front of the Board of Equalization.
He believes the park was wrongly granted a timber exemption on developed acreage, he said.
But on the day of the appeal hearing last week, Spencer received a call from the county legal department, informing him that he couldn't appeal after all.
Individuals can only appeal an assessment, he was told, if they own the property or have ownership interest.
He didn't believe it.
Taxpayers should be able to appeal any property assessment, Spencer said, because every property value impacts others.
"Everyone's property tax assessments affect how much everybody else pays," he said. "Everybody's taxes are affected by one exemption."
He pointed out that a BOE procedure manual created by the Idaho Association of Counties states, "Most appellants are property owners who appeal their own assessment" ... "However, any property owner can appeal any assessment."
The county had to look into it.
The challenge, McHugh said, is that Idaho code isn't specific on this.
Chapter 5 of Title 63 merely states that "taxpayers" may file an appeal.
"There's no definition of what taxpayer means," McHugh said. "Does it mean the taxpayer who owns the property, or has ownership interest? Or does that mean any taxpayer who lives in the county? It's just an unknown."
County offices consulted with other entities.
Ada and Bannock counties directed that an appeal doesn't have standing unless the appellant has ownership interest, McHugh said.
Even staff with the Idaho Association of Counties made the same recommendation, McHugh said.
McHugh said he has deemed that individuals can only appeal a property assessment if they own the land, represent the owners or have ownership interest.
"I believe that this will be the position of the county, absent either a statute change or a court case that concludes differently," McHugh said.
Commissioner Dan Green said he defers to the county's legal department.
"I would say it seems to be a difference of interpretation of statute between Spencer and the prosecutor," Green said.
Spencer said he plans to appeal the county's decision to the Idaho Board of Tax Appeals.
He believes his opinion is supported by an email he received from Steve Fiscus, division administrator with the Idaho State Tax Commission.
"I am familiar with cases where taxpayers, who felt they were aggrieved, filed appeals on other properties, specifically exempt property (church), and were heard by the BOE and the state Board of Tax Appeals," Fiscus wrote.
Silverwood representative Nancy DiGiammarco said Spencer does not have approval to represent the company.
He doesn't have accurate information about the company's property, she said, adding that the company's forest plan was approved by the Assessor's Office.
"Everything we have done has been by all the rules and regulations," she said.