Residents' group: Tax bump is unfair

Apr. 3—Pullman constituents on the south side of town were hit substantially during this tax season following efforts to begin closing the gap between assessed property values and market prices.

Joe Harris, of Pullman, said his neighbors have paid thousands in increases, and some saw their dues double after a new reassessment plan was introduced early last month.

He, along with a group of citizens who experienced the bump, say the adjustment is unfair and question its legality.

They plan to challenge the change, in hopes to repeal the revaluation plan. Harris said they will file a motion with Whitman County Assessor Wraylee Flodin.

He said if they have to, they'll take the matter to Whitman County Superior Court and file a lawsuit.

"Something seems fishy," Harris said. "We think it's illegal based on the research that we've done.... It's an unfair plan, and our goal is to get it thrown out."

Harris, alongside Pullman resident John Swenson, held a meeting on the issue at the Neill Public Library on Monday evening. They didn't know how many would show, and were surprised to find a roomful of people including Rep. Mary Dye, R-Pomeroy, and Pullman City Councilor Eric Fejeran.

The group debunked common misconceptions and answered the question many south side residents have been pondering: Why have taxes skyrocketed for only one area in Pullman?

Swenson said it can be boiled down to the historical failure of assessments in Whitman County and the reassessment plan addressing the disconnect.

For years, there's been an imbalance in market prices and assessed values, used to calculate homeowner's property tax bill.

According to Washington state law, properties must be assessed at 100% of their fair market price. When the price increases, assessed values will rise to reflect that.

Whitman County has been playing catch-up for the past several years. Statistical reports from the Washington Department of Revenue show the percentage of market prices have fallen to around 92% in 2016 and 71% in 2021 while the statewide average was at 91%.

The Department of Revenue took notice and requested the county improve its real property ratio in a report released in October 2023.

Flodin has been working on that, and brought forth the reassessment plan last year. It details incremental improvements beginning on the south side of Pullman, moving to the north side of town next year and eventually reaching all parts of the county in the forthcoming years.

Southside residents, however, reject the plan on many levels.

Harris said the small group of people are subsidizing everyone's taxes for one year. He added it's money that will never be made up or evened out during the six-year period.

The plan allows portions of Whitman County to be assessed over six years in cycles. Homes are revalued annually and the county does physical appraisals of properties once every six years.

Harris said the plan potentially violates federal, state and case law for, in the past, not representing 100% of the fair market price and revaluing properties on an annual basis, as well as not maintaining an active and systematic program of revaluation by changing definitions and the plan halfway through the cycle.

"We will establish they're not doing their job correctly," Harris said.

The situation at the assessor's office was also mentioned. Harris said there's been a lot of stress caused by staff turnover and finding a way to correct the disparities.

"(Flodin) is digging out of such a big hole," Harris said. "You've got to feel for her, but at the same time, she represents us. If we don't like what's happening, we need to communicate."

Eileen Macoll, of Pullman, made note of programs that exempt low-income seniors, veterans and people with disabilities from paying property taxes. More information on these can be found by calling the assessor's office at 509-397-6220.

Pearce can be reached at epearce@dnews.com