Council Bogs Down in Property Tax Debate

Wednesday, May 13 2015

Coe Whittern owns this vacant 11-acre parcel in the Valley. (Annie Ngo/KUCB)

City councilors narrowly rejected an appeal from a landowner over a major property tax hike during a lengthy meeting as the Board of Equalization Tuesday night.

Coe Whittern’s appeal was for an undeveloped, 11-acre parcel in Unalaska’s Valley that could hold about 30 smaller lots. The land was appraised at $59,000 in the past -- but this year, its value went up to nearly $500,000.

Whittern said all he’s done to the land this year was to add fill dirt, and he felt the raise was out of proportion with other lots in town.

"If the only difference between being worth $60,000-minus and almost a half a million is that now you don’t have to put in dirt to finish developing at all those other higher costs, then every place that doesn’t have to have dirt to be developed at high cost should have a similar value per foot," he said. "This doesn’t boil down to just the simple argument, but it isn’t fair at all."

But he didn’t have specific numbers  to support his case. And appraiser Adam Verrier said the lot’s new value reflects its full potential if it was subdivided and sold off.

"According to state law, we’re supposed to be at market value or somewhere in the range of market value," Verrier said. "I don’t think that 11 acres was worth $59,000. I think it was worth a lot more than that."

The four councilors at the meeting -- Dave Gregory, Alejandro ‘Bong’ Tungul, Yudelka Leclere and Roger Rowland, who was filling in as mayor -- spent an hour and a half in gridlock over how to proceed. 

A motion to overturn the appeal failed on a ‘no’ vote from Leclere. Then, her motion to drop the property’s value to $80,000 failed for lack of a second. Roger Rowland proposed just cutting the value in half, but Dave Gregory voted that down.

In the end, councilors settled back on overturning the appeal and keeping the new high value.

Their regular meeting lasted two more hours after that. It focused on the 2016 operating budget, which moved forward to a public hearing later this month. 

As part of that discussion, council agreed to give local nonprofits the extra funds they’re asking for this year. Michelle Cochran, who is president of the clinic board, spoke up in favor of the plan.

"Every nonprofit that’s asking for money has a demonstrated track record in this community of providing vital services that cost a fraction of what they would actually cost if they were being run by municipal government," she said.

The nonprofits are asking for an additional $22,000 on top of their standard $562,000 in funding this year, not including the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association and the Museum of the Aleutians. Their appropriations will be considered separately due to councilor conflicts of interest.

Council also voted to accept $150,000 in mitigation money from Offshore Systems, Inc. OSI is expanding its facility in Captain’s Bay. As part of their U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit, they have to fund some improvements to tidelands. The city hopes to use the money for leftover restoration projects in the Iliuliuk River. They won’t be able to spend it on a fish weir.

And finally on Tuesday, councilors agreed to allow themselves to attend meetings by phone during summer travel, as long as at least three people attend in person. The policy will kick in at their next meeting, on May 26.

News Community About Site by Joseph Redmon