A bill that would encourage assessors in Utah's 10 most populous counties to update their procedures gained some traction today with news that it affixes penalties to assessors who don't comply with the law two years in a row.

Rep. Wayne Harper, R-West Jordan, is sponsoring HB54 to get assessors in first-, second- and third-class counties to switch to a computer-assisted mass-appraisal system and to provide property owners with more information about the most recent review date of the property on tax notices.

Most of those counties already have expensive appraisal software to help them analyze market values, and Harper acknowledged that without correct data going into the software, it will be difficult for assessors to get correct results.

But, he says, his bill will streamline the appraisal process for assessors and provide more information to property owners.

If an assessor doesn't comply with the law, the Utah State Tax Commission will be assigned to help that assessor for one year.

In a second year of noncompliance, that assessor's office will forfeit the portion of state-collected revenue for assessing and collecting normally received that year.

Rep. John Dougall, R-American Fork, and chairman of the House Revenue and Taxation Committee, said HB54 is one of many that aim to fix Utah's property tax system.

During 2007, residents in Bountiful were hit by double-digit property-tax increases because their properties were reappraised for the first time in a decade.

Davis County leaders have scrambled to provide more appraisers to the Davis County Assessor's Office and teamed up with the Davis School District, Bountiful, Weber Basin Water Conservancy District and Davis Mosquito Abatement District to provide a tax abatement for properties that saw more than a 24 percent increase in property values between 2006 and 2007.

"This is a small baby step," Dougall said. "This will help solve some issues. There are many other issues and limitations in our property-tax system."

The committee passed HB54 unanimously to the House Friday.

Dougall and Harper have teamed up on other property-tax legislation and expect to introduce a bill on Monday that would lower the property tax for school districts while raising the sales tax.

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