Homeowners in for shock Tempe property valuations jump 47%

Betty Beard The Arizona Republic Mar. 3, 2006 12:00 AM

Southeast Valley homeowners who got their 2007 property tax valuation notices this week were stunned to see their home's assessed value doubling in some cases.

Residents expressed mixed feelings at the higher values, glad that their homes are worth more but worried that the higher valuations could slap them with higher tax bills. They were also dismayed that they won't know until fall 2007 what those bills will be.

The valuations from 2006 to 2007 had a median increase of 69 percent in Ahwatukee Foothills, the highest in the Phoenix metropolitan area, followed by Gilbert, 61 percent; Chandler, 55 percent; Mesa, 48 percent; Tempe, 47 percent, and Queen Creek, 46 percent.

Some predicted the higher values could hurt efforts to pass bond issues in Phoenix and Tempe and efforts to establish a property tax in Mesa.

Ahwatukee Foothills resident Tom Gierada was "shell-shocked" when he saw his home valuation increase 100 percent.

"I couldn't believe it," he said.

Gierada, the owner of Sunsational Cruises in Tempe, declined to say what the new value for his home was.

But he said he will have to raise his homeowners insurance to cover the increased value, which will mean higher insurance bills as well as higher tax bills.

Krista Collins, a housewife who lives in a county island within Chandler, said her neighbor recently moved because she was told her taxes could increase as much as $1,000 a year.

Collins said she hadn't received her personal statement yet but that her mortgage payments already increased $100 a month in January to cover higher taxes and insurance for 2006.

"I'm afraid to see how much it is going to be. I am assuming it's going to be an obscene amount," she said.

Unfortunately, homeowners won't get their actual tax bills based on the new valuations until fall 2007, when the first half is due. Maricopa County Assessor Keith Russell said he can't even guess how much bills will rise because they will differ by municipality, school district and other factors. Arizona has one of the most complicated property tax systems in the country, he said.

The increase in the valuations doesn't mean the actual bill will go up by the same percentage. But Russell expects taxes to increase.

"Are they going to go up? They always go up," he said.

Tom Jenney, a Phoenix resident and executive director of the Arizona Federation of Taxpayers, believes the increase in property taxes could be dramatic.

"If they (municipalities) don't decide to cut spending or cut (tax) rates or stop bonding, some people could get a 50 percent increase in taxes," he said.

His group attempts to reduce tax burdens. Jenney said the higher valuations were heaven-sent because they could persuade people to vote against bond issues.

At its quarterly meeting Thursday night in Tempe, the taxpayers group planned to hear from Marc Goldstone, chairman of Arizona Tax Revolt, a ballot initiative.

The Bullhead City resident wants voters to approve a rollback to 2003 assessed valuations.

Residents have 60 days to appeal the new valuations to the Maricopa County Assessor's Office, even though they won't know the impact for about 18 months.

"Homeowners need to ask, 'Can I sell my property for the assessed value or more?' " Russell said.

"If the answer is no, they need to think about an appeal."

He admitted that the valuations, which shifted several years ago from annual to every two years, caught homeowners in the midst of an extraordinary increase in prices. Next year, he plans to revert to annual evaluations to lessen the impact.

The valuations from 2005 to 2006 were mostly unchanged.

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