Finance Director calls changes to CBJ assessment process a “multi-year adjustment”

Bob Bartholomew

Juneau Finance Director Bob Bartholomew. Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO.

It could take the City and Borough of Juneau another year or two to work out all the kinks in its new process for determining property values. But the public can help by providing information to the Assessor’s Office.

That’s according to CBJ Finance Director Bob Bartholomew, who provided an overview of changes to the city’s assessment practices to the Juneau Assembly on Wednesday.

Bartholomew said based on the number of calls and complaints coming in to the Assessor’s Office, the new method of determining property value isn’t as dialed in as it should be.

“It’s not where we want to be. It’s too much change,” Bartholomew said. “And it’s the switch in the methodology that’s driving that. We will narrow a fair amount of that change. But we’re not going to get where there’s no change next year. I think it’s going to be a multi-year adjustment.”

According to Bartholomew and City Assessor Robin Potter, the new methodology was recommended by the State Assessor’s Office. The most significant change being a new “cluster land modeling” system that puts properties into 21 distinct neighborhoods for the purposes of determining land value.

Finance Committee Chair Karen Crane asked how the city accounts for the fact that parcels of land can vary quite a bit within the typical Juneau neighborhood.

“In this community, the neighborhoods are not similar,” Crane said. “You can have a $500,000 house, a $200,000 house, a shack, or whatever. So, they’re not consistent.”

Bartholomew admitted that’s a weakness in the model. But he also said it’s where the public can help.

“When you have disparity between the types of properties, the types of lots in a geographic area, we need more information,” he said. “We need more data elements to fit into the model.”

Bartholomew said the city typically receives that data when a property owner appeals their assessment. He said the majority of assessment disputes between the city and property owners are resolved through an informal appeal process. That’s where the property owner works directly with the Assessor’s Office to identify features and characteristics of their land or home that lead to changes in assessed value. If that fails to resolve the dispute, the next step is an appeal to the city’s Board of Equalization.

An appeal must be filed with the Assessor’s Office by May 15th this year.