ashland.news
June 13, 2024

Mistake that cost county man nearly $50K led to change in state law

Alvin Woody says he paid an extra $48,000 in property taxes at his property at 1208 Beale Lane in Central Point. Rogue Valley Times photo by Jamie Lusch
July 22, 2023

Governor signs bill penned by Ashland Rep. Pam Marsh — but it doesn’t apply retroactively

By Damian Mann for Ashland.news

Central Point resident Alvin Woody scored a bittersweet property tax win from Salem lawmakers this session after hitting a brick wall with Jackson County officials.

In 2019, he discovered that an error by the Jackson County Assessor had cost him $47,950.07 in taxes on his property since 2006.

Since then, he’s pleaded his case to the assessor, the Oregon Tax Court, the Oregon Department of Revenue and the Department of Justice.

He finally turned to Rep. Pam Marsh, D-Ashland, even though her House district doesn’t include Central Point, and she championed House Bill 2086, signed into law by Gov. Tina Kotek on July 13.

The bill compels assessors to correct an error in taxes by adjusting the tax bill in the current tax year and reimbursing for the previous five years. Previously, the wording in state law indicated an assessor “may” issue a refund. The new wording says an assessor “shall” refund erroneous taxes for five years.

Woody previously contacted county officials, who told him they didn’t have any authority over the assessor’s office or the assessor, which is an elected position.

He said he sent commissioners emails and letters but never got a response.

“I’ve been appalled that the county commissioners have been silent and would not say a word,” Woody said.

Pam Marsh

Woody said he got a different response from the Legislature, particularly Marsh.

“Everyone realized this was a bad law,” Woody said.

Ultimately, the bill doesn’t help Woody get his money back because his situation happened prior to the bill taking effect.

“It’s not a satisfying resolution in total,” Marsh said. “He’s out thousands and thousands of dollars because of somebody else’s mistake.”

She said the bill ensures that something similar doesn’t happen to other taxpayers.

Marsh said she applauded Woody for his persistence at a variety of government levels.

“He’s turned over every rock,” she said.

Woody’s plight is a wake-up call to anyone who pays taxes but doesn’t always pay close attention to the amount being charged.

“We are all really warned that we need to take a good look at those statements and make sure they’re correct,” Marsh said.

Woody, who is retired, is still trying to think of some legal avenue to get some of his money back.

According to his calculation, if he had been refunded for the five years prior to 2019, he would be entitled to $20,496.77 plus interest, for a grand total of $36,650.61.

Woody agreed that the assessor appears to have the law on his side by denying him a refund.

“It was lawful, but not ethical,” he said.

As to the bill passing the Legislature and getting signed into law, Woody said he wasn’t really surprised.

“It was what I would expect from people who have ethics,” he said. “Everyone of them recognized this is a bad law.”

In testimony before the Senate, Woody took the county to task:

“Arrasmith’s conduct goes beyond incompetence as has been reported. He has no problem with abuse of authority. It is also appalling that the three county commissioners and the county attorney have all received multiple communications regarding this issue and not one of them has had the backbone to standup for what is right, in contrast to Rep. Marsh who stated this is ‘unacceptable’ and went to work to change the statute so it could not be abused by such as Arrasmith.”

In Woody’s case, a staff county appraiser, who no longer works for the department, noted a remodel on a building that appears to have given rise to the error back in 2006.

Jackson County Assessor David Arrasmith said the records for 2006 don’t provide sufficient information to describe the nature of the “remodel” that led to the higher tax rate.

Arrasmith said he supports Marsh’s bill, but he said that over the 40 years he’s worked at the assessor’s office, Woody’s situation is the first one of its type that he’s encountered.

“It may help another person in the next 40 years,” he said. “I’m glad to see any change in the property tax laws that are well received by the property taxpayers.”

As to Woody’s situation, Arrasmith said he doesn’t know of any legal mechanism to give Woody a refund.

“I would need statutory authority and there is none that I know of,” he said. “There has to be the authority to deviate from a Constitutional formula.”

Despite this particular situation, Arrasmith said there are fewer appeals of property taxes now than in the past. For example there were only 30 property tax appeals last year compared to about 2,200 in 1997, when the state underwent significant changes to how property taxes were calculated, he said.

Jackson County Commissioner Rick Dyer said there was nothing the Board of Commissioners could do to help Woody.

“I certainly feel for the guy,” he said. “I think it’s beyond unfortunate and that this could happen to anybody.”

He said the situation is solely the responsibility of the assessor.

“He had the ability and authority to reimburse a certain amount, and his reasons for not doing so are his own,” Dyer said. “He made a decision that I’m not going to second guess.”

In recent years, the assessor’s office has come under fire for a number for deficiencies in his department.

In 2022, the commissioners took Arrasmith to task after a state audit found widespread problems in his office. The audit found the assessor’s basic function to compute taxes wasn’t in compliance with the law.

In 2021, Arrasmith missed an error that caused Almeda fire survivors to underpay their property taxes by $466,000. County workers recalculated thousands of tax bills and informed survivors, who may be struggling to recover, that they owe more money.

Dyer said he thinks the assessor is working diligently to resolve issues.

“They sincerely want to be better and in compliance,” he said.

In the meantime, Woody continues to think of other ways to recover at least some of the money that he’s lost over the years.

“I’m still losing a bit of sleep trying to figure out what I can do,” Woody said.

Reach freelance writer Damian Mann at dmannnews@gmail.com.

Picture of Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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