Asotin County Commissioners look into fixing a tax break program

ANATONE, WA - The owners of some farm and timberland near Anatone have been getting a big tax break for years because of a government program.

But now, Asotin County Commissioners are denying their application to re-new the tax break, something county leaders admit should've been done years ago. KLEW News talked to Asotin county leaders about why action wasn't taken sooner, and what's being done now to help the county avoid losing thousands a year in tax revenue.

Richard and Marietta Scheibe were getting a big tax break through Washington's Open Space Taxation Act programs. They were only paying $12 a year in property taxes, but as it turns out, for dozens of years, they weren't following the program's criteria and should've been paying $1,300 a year in property taxes. That's thousands of dollars the county should've gotten. County leaders admit this went unchecked, and was due partially because of a lack of manpower due to budget cuts.

"Every office in this county has been impacted by budget cuts," said Jim Jeffords. "Whether it be layoffs, partial layoffs or losing positions when someone leaves. Hopefully we can start getting those back and getting up to par with what we're suppose to be doing."

County Appraiser Greg Van Kirk was an employee who was laid off. So, for a year Asotin County didn't have an appraiser. Now he's back working full-time. But, with more than $245,000 acres in Asotin County that's part of this tax break program it's difficult for all the land to be inspected to see if it's in compliance with program criteria.

"Its very difficult because there's a lot of documentation and paperwork we need to assemble before we can make our decision," said Van Kirk. "And, it takes a lot of time, but our staff time is pretty limited. Our ability to do this on a full-time basis is dramatically reduced."

Despite limited staff, progress is being made to take people who don't meet the criteria out of this program. One thing that's being done is property is being evaluated every year instead of every four years. Asotin County Assessor Chris Wood said they have a lot of cleaning up to do, but it's hard to do with only two appraisers.

"So it is important and today we've collected over $97,000 in back taxes, penalties and interest," said Wood. So we are working actively on the program to get it cleaned up."

The Assessors Office started pulling people out of the program in 2010, after not having surveyed any farmers in toughly 20-years. Chris said there's been a lot of people taking advantage of the program, but now that's changing.

Assessor Chris Wood said they've mainly been focusing on the properties that are one-to-20 acres. Their next step is to focus on the 20-to-100 acre parcels.