Residents of Centerville, West Bountiful and Woods Cross are likely to get upset later this month when their property tax notices come in the mail. They could be facing huge increases.
While it may be difficult for many of those people to appreciate, that is the price that has to be paid when a county decides to transition to yearly countywide reassessments. As do some other counties in Utah, Davis had been re-evaluating properties a section at a time. That meant an individual's home might not be re-examined for several years. Last year, a sudden spike in home prices hit the Bountiful area hard when its turn came around. This year, other areas will feel some of those effects, despite a softening housing market.
But after this year, Davis County's assessments should be on a more even keel. That's what the county assessor told this newspaper, and there are good reasons to believe him. Under a yearly review, spikes in property values are absorbed countywide. State law prohibits local governments from collecting more property-tax revenue one year than the year before without declaring a tax increase. That means tax rates have to go down during years when real estate inflation is in full swing. But the equalization effect is lost if the county does not assess all properties yearly.
Salt Lake County reassesses all properties yearly. Despite a volatile real estate year, only 2.28 percent of county residents appealed their assessments last year. But when the county transitioned into this system in the 1990s, some property owners had to experience pain similar to what people in Centerville, West Bountiful and Woods Cross will feel this month.
The important thing is for state lawmakers to avoid the temptation to over-react to complaints. Currently, some members of the Legislature are studying changes to the property tax system, ranging from adopting a California-style system based on the price of a home when it is purchased to eliminating property taxes altogether.
Neither is a good idea. Recent studies show Utahns pay less in property taxes than do Californians. And eliminating property taxes would require governments to raise other taxes. Meanwhile, Utahns on average pay less in property taxes today than they did 40 years ago, adjusting for inflation.
If all counties switched to yearly countywide assessments, a lot of the pain would disappear, as it likely will in Davis County after this year.