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Fire victims on tap for tax relief

Jackson County residents who lost their homes to recent fires could see their November property taxes drop by 50% or more.

Property owners, who already have a lot on their plates, will need to file an application to make sure they get the lower rates this year.

If you miss filing the application, the Jackson County Assessor’s Office plans to automatically reduce the values by next year once they survey the burned-out areas.

“On Jan. 1, 2021, we will identify every piece of property that has been affected by fire damage,” said Jackson County Assessor David Arrasmith.

The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office estimates 2,357 homes lost to the Almeda fire and another 57 damaged after flames reduced large portions of Talent and Phoenix to rubble.

“We have literally thousands of people who have lost their houses,” said Rep. Pam Marsh, D-Ashland.

According to Marsh, the fire destroyed more than 1,500 housing units in manufactured home and RV parks.

“This loss represents a significant supply of affordable housing,” she said. “Many of the housing parks are occupied by seniors and low-income families.”

Some initial reports indicate that 80% of children who attend Phoenix Elementary and 50% at Talent Elementary may have lost their homes, she said.

Also many businesses along or near Highway 99 from Valley View Drive through Phoenix suffered losses.

To qualify for a lower property tax before payments are due in November, property owners need to file a state form called “Application for proration of property taxes due to damage by fire or by act of God:” www.oregon.gov/dor/forms/FormsPubs/app-for-proration_310-083.pdf.

The form can be filled out by June 30, 2021, to receive a property tax credit for the current year. Representatives from the Assessor’s Office have been available at the Expo in Central Point, where resources are available for those displaced by the fires.

Manufactured home owners will likely see the greatest percentage reduction in property taxes because they generally own just the living unit and lease the land from a property owner.

For those who lost a house, a majority of the property tax is generally based on the value of the house.

Arrasmith provided a couple of examples of how the tax reduction would work, noting that every property has different issues at play that could affect calculations.

In one example, the assessed value of a property would be $80,000 for the land and $160,000 for the building, for a total of $240,000.

The taxes on the property would be $3,000. If the house was destroyed during the fire, the tax would drop to $1,687.50.

“It’s about half the bill,” said Arrasmith.

The formula still levies a tax on the house for July, August and September because it was being occupied. Even if a house was occupied for a partial month, it is still taxed for the full month. Next year, if the house hasn’t been rebuilt yet, the property taxes would be even less.

Keep in mind that the assessed value is different than the real market value, which is typically higher. In the case of the example house, the real market value would be about $300,000.

Because many manufactured home owners lease the property on which they are located, they would see an even larger decrease. The taxes on many mobile homes are based only on the structure itself.

In one example Arrasmith provided, a destroyed mobile home had an assessed value of $74,000, and the property taxes would drop by 75%, because during July, August and part of September the home was still occupied. Instead of paying $1,200 in property taxes, the amount would drop to $300. In this example, the real market value was placed at $93,000.

Arrasmith said it’s too early to say how much the county will lose in property tax revenue.

“We will have considerably less in taxes,” he said.

Businesses are also taxed on personal property, which includes desks, computers, fork lifts and any other equipment necessary for operation. Property taxes are not levied on inventory, such as items that are sold, but the losses from operating equipment could be substantial, Arrasmith said.

Until a team gets into the areas that have been burned, it will be difficult to assess the full damage, he said.

“There is no way right now that we can estimate the losses,” Arrasmith said.

Almeda fire Talent 1.jpg