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Not all Property Valuation Notices Are Created Equal – Notices Can Vary Wildly Between Counties

This time of the year property owners receive their annual “Notice of Property Valuation and Tax Changes” in the mail. Unfortunately, these notices can be unclear and difficult to understand, and in some cases even leave those with strong math skills scratching their heads. The notices differ depending on the county issuing them and sometimes have very different formats and layouts.

The staff at the Utah State Tax Commission Property Tax Division have done an outstanding job over the years to get counties to adhere to the same standards and formats. Over time, that has had an excellent effect on making the notices more clear, uniform, and understandable. However, there is still a lot of work to be done.

Your Taxpayers Association recently compared the notices of three different counties: Salt Lake, Utah and Washington. While all of them are formatted in a similar way with the property owner information and property information at the top half of the notice, there are significant differences in providing the information taxpayers need to hold county. 

For example, most notices remind taxpayers that there is a residential exemption of 45% that a homeowner gets on the value of their primary residence. For example, if your home’s market value was shown at $400,000, your “taxable value” would be $220,000 ($400,000 minus the 45% exemption). Salt Lake County’s notice as well as Washington County’s show the different market values and taxable values clearly. However, Utah County has no information about the taxable value of a home and only shows the market value. If a taxpayer takes the time to do the math on the taxes owed they would be confused as to why the numbers are so off. 

In addition, Utah county’s notice does not show any of the tax rates for the various taxing entities listed on the notice. Both Salt Lake and Washington counties on the other hand have the rates listed for each taxing entity which makes it easy to double check the math and understand how the numbers are arrived at. However, Washington county’s notice does not have the previous year tax rates, only the previous year tax amount. That is a key missing piece that Washington county needs to provide.

Although the details are important and should be displayed as openly as possible, most taxpayers main objective is to know the “bottom line” as to whether their property taxes are going up or not. Both Washington and Utah county have “total” column that clearly shows what the total change in tax would be for the property owner. However, Salt Lake County does not have a total change column and leaves it to the property owner to manually add up the various line items to arrive at what the total change could be. 

Overall, there is still a lot of work to be done in making these notices more easily understood and formatted so that taxpayers clearly know what is happening. Your Utah Taxpayers Association is working to make sure that happens.

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