On Politics: Washoe County assessor stands for the taxpayers (opinion)
“Nothing is certain but death and taxes.” Both have a long history. Before answering a calling to be an apostle St. Matthew worked as a tax collector. The tax law was somewhat imprecise so Matthew collected whatever he felt like and sent only part of it to the Roman occupiers.
He was despised by his fellow Jews and called a “sinner.” A thousand years later William the Conqueror dethroned King Harold at the Battle of Hastings and became monarch of all England. Early on he ordered creation of the “Domesday Book,” a record of every tangible and real property asset in the realm and its ownership, the better to levy taxes.
By 1215 royal levies had become so onerous that noble barons hauled King John to Runnymede where they made him cut the “scutage” tax by two thirds and agree to levy future taxes only “in common counsel of our realm.”
Over the ensuing centuries “common counsel” morphed into what is now Parliament. This was all memorialized in the Magna Carta.
By the reign of Henry VIII (1515 – 1547) the king had no power to levy a tax without the approval of his “privy council” so Henry confiscated England’s monasteries and sold off their lead roofs to finance his war with France.
Following the American Revolution our founding fathers insisted on a constitutional guarantee against unscrupulous tax collectors depriving citizens of “life, liberty or property without due process of law.”
In the 1819 landmark case McCulloch vs. Maryland the U.S. Supreme Court announced: “The power to tax is the power to destroy.” Truer words were never spoken.
Fast forward to present day Nevada. Here real property taxes are derived by multiplying the consolidated tax rate (the sum of rates imposed by local agencies such as county, school board, fire district, etc.) times the assessed value of the property. In 1979 Nevada’s legislature set $3.66 per $100 assessed value as the maximum consolidated tax rate. Assessed values are set by county assessors. Uh oh. What’s to keep them from over valuing properties to jack up tax collections? Not much.
Not long ago the then county assessor valued Incline/Crystal Bay properties differently from the rest of Washoe County. He used value enhancements (view, beach quality, etc.) only for Tahoe properties.
This perturbed Incline resident Maryanne Ingemanson so she organized appeals to the County Board of Equalization. They told her to take a hike. Same with the State Board of Equalization. She then steered the nonprofit Village League to Save Incline Assets and its property owner members to court.
Litigation dragged on and on and finally the Nevada Supreme Court issued a favorable judgment for tax year 2006 resulting in a refund of taxes “unconstitutionally” collected plus interest.
So Incline “tax revolters” found out the hard way that countering “unscrupulous tax collectors” takes time, money and effort. Litigation is still pending for 2003, ‘04 and ‘05. Regrettably Maryanne passed away but the Village League continues to fight on behalf of Incline/Crystal Bay property owners.
I am indebted to Todd Lowe, successor to Maryanne Ingemanson as president of the Village League, for aiding my research for this column. Todd has been an officer of the Village League since the outset and has learned a great deal about the broad discretionary power county assessors have in the setting of our property tax burden.
Todd is very supportive of our incumbent Assessor Republican Mike Clark (no relation to your columnist).
“Mike has established a pro-taxpayer spirit in the assessor’s office” Lowe told me.
“He would much rather apply reason and lawfully adjust assessed values than force citizens to file appeals” he continued. “Mike really works for voters who elect him, not the taxing agencies” Todd said, adding: “The number of taxpayer appeals during Mike’s administration has been the lowest in 20 years.”
Jim Clark is president of Republican Advocates. He has served on the Washoe County and Nevada GOP Central Committees. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.