Mat-Su Borough Building sign

PALMER — Mat-Su Borough Assessor Brad Pickett updated the Mat-Su Borough Assembly on the assessed and appraised valuation of new and existing property in the Borough, and how the assessment department is getting a boost from Geographic Information Systems.

“Overall we had a good year of growth for new construction,” said Pickett. “The growth of the Valley, none of the other jurisdictions in Alaska are seeing this kind of growth. They’re able to keep up for the most part with their workload. We’re looking to technology, like I say GIS has really been instrumental in helping us do a better job so we don’t need as many staff but there comes a point in time where we still have to have boots on the ground to get out there and add these properties that we’ve missed.”

Pickett detailed the trends in borough property additions. The increase in appraised value jumped to 3.94 percent last year after slower growth of 2.58 percent in 2018 and 2.32 percent in 2019. Builders in the Mat-Su added approximately $117 million in appraised value last year just in single family homes with $21 million in additional multi family homes and $51 million for commercial construction, which is a large deviation from the norm.

“I really have to hand it to GIS because they’re taking us to the next level and creating efficiencies for us that we would not have had otherwise,” said Pickett.

Pickett outlined the difficulties for assessors in evaluating properties in an area as large as the Mat-Su Valley. The cyber attack that struck the borough in the fall of 2018 is still causing problems. Pickett said that following the attack, assessors had to use physical maps, pencils and paper to evaluate property values but are getting assistance from GIS, enabling mobile technology to be used to assist assessors. The Computer Assisted Mass Appraisal software ‘Govern’ will be up by late summer and Pickett estimates that it will allow assessors to work much more efficiently. With increased appraised property, so increases the value of exemptions on properties. The borough currently exempts $3.5 billion in property with an overall increase of five percent. Senior citizen exemptions grew by 8.3 percent, representing the largest portion of exemptions. Of the $3,544,231,154 in exemptions offered in 2019, $1,198,135,446 come from the senior citizen program. The average appraised value of a single family home grew last year to $264,894 with increased valuations for drilled wells, bathrooms, and airplane hangars resulting in the overall increase in value per square foot of a home. As Assemblyman Jesse Sumner pointed out, residents are not frustrated with assessments, but the taxes required on those assessed values. Pickett detailed the appeal process for assessments. Of the 191 appeals filed in 2019, only three properties were required to be adjusted. A total of 890 residents contacted assessors and 191 filed appeals, 30 of which went to the Board of Equalization.

“Last year we were dealing with the earthquake. A large number of those appeals were folks that had earthquake damage. We encouraged them to file appeals so that we had more time to work with them. The good news, we resolved every one of the earthquake damaged properties without going to the board,” said Pickett. “Each of those disasters adds an increased workload to the assessment office. As we review properties, adjust them if necessary and of course we’re still dealing with the cyber attack. I don’t know if that’s ever going to go away.”

Pickett said that approximately 190 property values had to be adjusted following the earthquake on November 30, 2018. Sumner asked if appraised properties were being missed due to the earthquake and cyber attack, which Pickett confirmed. Pickett said that his department has identified over 500 structures that had not existed on current imaging. A total of 409 of those structures were picked up, adding over $600,000 to the tax roll. Pickett said that Each staffed assessor is responsible for approximately 6,000 properties, making difficult the process of canvasing all of the property in the entire Mat-Su Valley without electronic live mapping aids from GIS. Those unintended consequences of homes not logged on tax rolls became apparent during last summer’s McKinley Fire.

“We ran into a few of those with the mckinley wildfire where families did indeed lose their home but there was no record of a home on that property, which made it difficult or impossible for them to receive state assistance and also made it very challenging for us to come up with an actual number of homes affected,” said Assemblywoman Tam Boeve.

Systematic auditing aided by GIS has already been effective in identifying senior citizens on the disabled Veterans program. Each assessor was able to find about 100 properties that did not match through a two week labor intensive process. Through software upgrades, 285 non matches were found this year in a more efficient, effective automated process.

The total appraised value in the Mat-Su comes out over $13 billion and the total assessed value is over $10 billion.

“The premise of assessments is to distribute the tax burden evenly so it is important that we get all of the property that’s out there on the tax roll,” said Pickett.

Pickett said that assessors had been over depreciating older homes, which may see an increase in valuation as processes for assessment become more efficient. With large additions of senior housing due to Maple Springs construction in Palmer and Wasilla, commercial medical construction has blossomed alongside it.

“Of all the segments in commercial, that’s where we’re seeing the most growth is medical and senior housing,” said Pickett.

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