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Reporting from the St. George area focused on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues and faith and spirituality.

Some homeowners in fast-growing Washington County see a ‘significant’ property tax increase

Big New Home Construction, St. George, April 18, 2022
Lexi Peery
/
KUER
New housing construction in St. George, one of the fastest-growing regions in the country, April 18, 2022.

St. George resident Bobbye Wetsel lives on a fixed income in a house she and her husband built for $355,000 in 2013. This year, their property was valued at $825,000.

“[But] we don't receive any of that,” she said. “I mean, unless you sell your house, it doesn't give you any help at all.”

What that higher appreciated value means for her now is that her property taxes are expected to jump $800 this year, or nearly 30% compared to last. Beyond paying more this year, Wetsel is worried that as home prices possibly settle, she’ll still be left paying the higher taxable amount.

“I've paid my taxes over all these years and raised my children,” she said. “And here I am as a senior citizen and getting stuck with paying for all the growth that they've done in St. George over the last few years.”

Washington County Assessor Tom Durrant called this year unprecedented and said he knew it would be difficult for many in the area. When he sent out notices, he warned of a “significant” increase for some people. That’s because property values spiked dramatically in parts of the county, and some frozen tax rates weren’t able to address this change.

The state school fund tax rate has been frozen since 2018 because of legislative action. There is also a freeze on Statewide Multi-County Assessing/Collecting.

“When [residents] opened that notice it just wasn't going to be anything like it had been in previous years,” Durrant said. “I had no idea how the shift would impact people. I just knew that with as much as every[thing] was increasing in value … and because of our legislative freeze … it's not good news.”

Durrant said property taxes are generally supposed to stay the same. There are shifts based on market values, which is why some may have even seen a decrease this year. State law requires entities to not collect more revenue than the previous year — besides new growth — without a truth in taxation process.

There are 90 entities statewide looking to raise property tax rates, but there’s only one in Washington County. St. George City wants to increase property taxes for the first time in 35 years to fund public safety.

Washington City resident Eric Dodge is having a hard time understanding why this is happening now, while he and others struggle with the impacts of high inflation. He built his “very small house” in 2001 and has seen property taxes fluctuate between $700 and $1,300 over the years. But this year alone, his taxes have increased by $300. They went from $1,400 to nearly $1,700.

Dodge is an entertainer and is making less than he used to, especially since he said people are recently “cutting back on those types of things.”

“I mean, I understand that house values went up and taxes went up and things like that,” Dodge said. “But it's not like I just moved in and bought this real expensive house. I've been in the same little starter home that I built ... I don't understand it too well, I guess.”

Chris Kurz, another resident of Washington City, wants to know how these increases are justified. In the past two years, he’s seen his property taxes go up over 30% or $1,200.

“We purchased our home here almost four years ago now,” he said. “We bought it at a more reasonable figure and we received our valuation, which has increased the value of the home astronomically. In the interim, we have no intention of moving, so we have to bear this additional tax burden — and for what additional services are we receiving as a result?”

Kurz said he wants new development to incur more of the burden than residents who already live in the region.

Washington County Clerk Susan Lewis said she feels for residents, but doesn’t want people to blame her or Durrant for what’s happening. She pointed out she’s just in charge of compiling and certifying school districts’, cities’ and counties’ tax rates.

“Values are climbing because people want to come here, they want to live in Washington County, we have great stuff here,” Lewis said. “And in a growing economy, they should have come down so that it was painful for a lot of taxpayers.”

For people with concerns about their property taxes, Durrant said there are some ways to address it. He said people should make sure their homes are classified correctly — there are discounts for primary residences. There are opportunities for property tax relief for some residents as well.

People can also appeal the assessed market value of their properties, Durrant said. That means collecting evidence and meeting with the county Board of Equalization before Sept. 15. The other way people can address their high property taxes is by going to public hearings where property tax increases are being discussed and talking to elected representatives about their concerns.

“I don't think there's anything I could say that would make it better for anybody there,” he said. “Any time property tax goes up, nobody likes that.”

Lexi is KUER's Southwest Bureau reporter
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