Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Flathead property tax appraisals through the roof

Posted By on Wed, Jan 6, 2010 at 10:38 AM

The Los Angeles Times published a piece by Kim Murphy a few days ago about the Flathead's skyrocketing property tax appraisals and the residents trying to cope, whom she describes as "roadkill on the highway to the New West."

Here's the lead:

Charles Abell grew up here in the Flathead Valley in a rustic log cabin his parents built during their honeymoon out on Whitefish Lake. When he married, Abell bought a small house on another part of the lake, leaving the old family cabin for his brother.

He paid $35,000 for the house in 1967, raised his two boys there, and until lately figured he'd probably die in the same tidy house with the metal awning over the porch, the collection of souvenir spoons and beer steins hanging like sweet memories in the small kitchen.

That was until the tax bill came this fall.

Abell already knew that property values in the Flathead — a new romping ground for Hollywood celebrities, sports stars and international CEOs — far exceeded what they were when he graduated from Whitefish High School. His 70-year-old house in the tax appraisal in 2002 was worth a stunning $553,900, thanks to its location right on the lake.

Now, though, the Montana Department of Revenue says Abell's property is worth $2.64 million. The old cabin his brother's living in? That one, because it sits on 4 acres, is worth $4.2 million.

Abell, who recently retired as president of the Whitefish Credit Union at the age of 70, just wrote a check for $9,200 for this year's property taxes. He expects to owe at least twice that amount every year when the new appraisals take full effect in 2014 — an obligation that will quickly empty his modest retirement account.

Murphy reports that some homeowners around Flathead Lake and nearby waterways have seen their property valuations go up 400 percent, 600 percent even 1,000 percent over last year's rates. This while market values among high-end properties plummet.

Some may not feel much sympathy for residents who suddenly find themselves living on a gold mine. Here's what Abell has to say about that:

"They tell us, 'You're sitting on a couple million dollars; why don't you sell it?' But this is where I raised my children. It's not for sale. It's my home."

Click here for Murphy's full story.

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