The Treeport Homeowners Association lives in an odd balance with its geographic surroundings. Nestled in a swath of trees just over a mile north of Highway 54, the patch of 25 homes cradles the little-known Treeport Airport, a grassy stretch for smaller, privately-owned aircraft to call home.
Treeport walks a fine line: Roughly half of the homes that make up the organization reside on the northern edge of Kootenai County, while the other half borders the southern border of Bonner County. Yearly assessments aren’t merely sorted by property, but must be separated by county. Normally, though, property assessments from one county stay roughly in line with houses on the other side of the divide.
This year’s assessment brought an anomoly of a different kind: While the vast majority of houses in the HOA saw modest increases in their assessed value, two homes on Sky Hawk Drive saw inexplicably, extraordinary increases in this year’s assesments, drawing ire and concern from homeowners.
“It’s not that we don’t want to pay our fair share,” Jane Pierce of 54 Sky Hawk said. “We’re happy to pay our fair share. But to see this kind of increase makes no sense whatsoever.”
Pierce received her ritual assesement decision on May 31 this year. Having made no improvements to her property, she expected a mild rise in her home’s assessed value, in keeping with the modest adjustments for a steadily-climbing housing market. She said when she saw Bonner County’s assessment, she panicked.
“I didn’t know what to do,” she said. “I still don’t.”
Pierce’s home and property, assessed last year at just over $444,000, rose to just over $627,000, a 41 percent increase on a property that made no real improvements over the past 12 months.
“It makes no sense whatsoever,” Pierce said. “Immediately, my husband said we need to sell. Even if I could pay off the property, we’re in retirement age. We’re looking to do something that doesn’t involve such a high monthly payment. We can’t do it.”
Pierce estimated her property taxes would increase between $300 and $400 per month because of the new assessment figures. What struck her as odd, however, was that almost no one else in the area saw a similar jump. Confused and concerned, she sought out the Treeport Homeowners Association for guidance, where she discovered only one other property saw a similar jump.
“There’s no justification for that kind of an increase out here,” Treeport HOA president Michael Hall said. “None.”
Hall wasn’t talking about Pierce’s increased assessment. He was talking about his own.
“Last year, my home was assessed at $517,980,” Hall said. “That was high compared to the years’ past, but we swallowed that. We figured it wasn’t completely unfair. We filed an appeal, but it wasn’t completely off the charts. But this year, we couldn’t believe it.
Hall said he and his wife, Kathy, were hit with an assessed value of $732,567, a hike of almost $215,000.
“It seems to me, people need to know about this,” Hall said. “This is out of hand. We expect yearly increases, but if that’s what they think this place warrants, I don’t know how they could possibly come up with that number.”
Hall said he made virtually no improvements to the land over the course of the last year.
“We finished putting our yard in,” he said, “but that’s it. And it’s just grass.”
Hall called the Bonner County Assessor’s Office that week, where he said he was told by Assessor Donna Gow’s staff his options were few and far between.
“[A County employee] told us our only recourse was to appeal,” he said. “But in the same breath, she told us it probably wouldn’t do any good.”
As it turns out, help might be on the way.
While Gow wouldn’t comment specifically about these two properties, she did say the Hall and Pierce households were not alone. Her office has received a number of complaints from the Clagstone, Spirit Lake and Oldtown areas, where she said her staff has discovered a startling trend.
“In this particular area, in the extreme southern areas of the county,” Gow said, “we were more aggressive on our percentage increase.”
She said the reason why certain properties saw substantial increases was because the sale prices of lower-priced homes jumped considerably over the last year, inflating assessments in that same cycle. Assessments on taxable property must be assessed at 100 percent of current market value, minus the spare exemption, per Idaho Code. The Assessor estimates the probable selling price of properties as of January 1 each year, considering construction costs, sales data and income-producing properties. Features that influence sales price include size, location, age, construction quality and overall conditions, according to the county webiste.
Gow urged anyone with concerns about their assessments to call her office. Those looking to appeal Bonner County Assessor’s Office findings can call the Assessor’s Office to discuss the matter. If an agreement cannot be reached, citizens have the right to then appeal to the Board of Equalization, but those living in the southern outlying areas of the county where assessments came in at surprisingly high figures will receive special attention.
“Oh, I’m appealing,” Pierce said. “I’m screaming about this. We’ll all be screaming about this. We’re voting citizens. We deserve to be heard on this.”
“We have a three-bed, two-and-a-half-bath,” Hall said. “It’s nothing fancy. How do you justify this?”
“We had a meeting on this [Wednesday],” Gow agreed. “With this new information that’s come in, we’re backing off those prices. We’re re-evaluating some of those assessments. I still urge you to call to make us aware of it, but you should also look for corrective notices to come in the mail.”