Salt Lake City Weekly

Tax Time

Babs Delay Sep 5, 2018 4:00 AM

When Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin died a few weeks ago, I was both devastated and happy. She had been battling pancreatic cancer since 2010, and her pain was finally over. I grew up on her music and played her songs on public radio for nearly 28 years. I think I own every vinyl album she ever recorded. She was the voice that made me happy. The music she sang was the Red Bull in my low-energy days, and her sass gave me the R-E-S-P-E-C-T I needed when I experienced discrimination. Although born in Memphis, she was raised in Detroit and lived there for most of her life.

Detroit has had severe economic problems in the past decade—it's not known as a city of affluence to begin with. According to the Detroit News, from 2011 through 2015, almost 100,000 properties (about a quarter of all the parcels) foreclosed because of unpaid property taxes. The problem? Two Chicago professors claim that the tax assessor overinflated property values in the city's lowest-valued neighborhoods, which resulted in thousands of the poorest homeowners losing their homes. The newspaper reported that the average property had been assessed at 7.5 times its actual sales price.

If you own property in Utah, you should have received your property-tax notice by now. We generally pay below the national average in taxes, somewhere between .946-1.539 percent, according to Utah's average effective property-tax rate for the entire state is .67 percent, which is the 10th lowest in the country. As an example, a homeowner in Salt Lake City with a property worth $250,000 would pay $1,875 (.75 percent) in annual property taxes. In the rest of the state, they'd shell out $1,720 on average, or $3,028 nationally per year.

Many homeowners believe the property value calculated by the tax assessor is the true value of your home, land, condo, investment property or commercial building. It is not. The value is calculated by a computer, and there's a form attached to your tax notice that you can easily fill out to notify the county's Board of Equalization that you disagree. Provide sales data or an appraisal, send it in and wait to hear if the local assessor agrees or disagrees with you. Also, you can meet them in person to explain why your property is not worth what's appearing on your tax notice. You don't need to hire a CPA or an attorney to fight taxes. And know that the assessor can't sell your property at a public auction for lack of payment of property taxes for five years. Sadly, too many people in Detroit lost their homes because they failed to understand the system, were afraid to fight the system, or didn't know they had options.