Juneau voters will decide whether or not to repeal mandatory home price disclosure

A sign marks a home that recently sold along the North Douglas Freeway in Juneau on June 30, 2022. City ordinances require the buyer to disclose the sale price to the city assessor’s office , although a real estate-backed group wants to repeal those ordinances. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

This question asks voters to repeal measures passed by the Juneau Assembly in 2020 and last February that require sharing the sale prices of real estate with the city assessor’s office.

The job of the appraiser is to determine the fair market value of each parcel of property in Juneau, each year. These values ​​directly affect property tax bills and the balance of who pays for city services.

Repeal supporters say the mandate is an invasion of privacy and expect it to lead to higher property taxes. Most members of the Assembly oppose repeal. They say disclosing sale prices will lead to fairer and more accurate appraisals, especially for high-end properties, which tend to be undervalued when appraised.

Real estate professionals and developers are leading the repeal effort, which began with the citizen petition process. They often point out how common it is for jurisdictions with mandatory disclosure laws to enact land transfer taxes which they claim increase the cost of housing.

Here’s how the group leading the repeal effort, Protect Juneau Homeowners’ Privacy, summed it up in a 30-second Facebook video:

It’s Gary Stephens. He runs an auto repair shop in Juneau.

Assembly members say the mandate is not to increase tax revenue.

Mayor Beth Weldon voted against the original mandate and would not split her vote on the repeal issue. But she said she was disappointed with some of the messages from repeal supporters.

“We never said we were going to do a transfer tax,” Weldon said. “In fact, we didn’t even know what a transfer tax was until they talked about it. Quite frankly, we are spending millions, and I mean millions of dollars, trying to make housing affordable in Juneau. And why would we make housing more expensive on the one hand and spend millions on the other to make it cheaper? … It just doesn’t make sense.

No member of the Assembly has taken any action or indicated that they want to create a real estate transfer tax.

Realtor Kimmi Ott hosts a podcast called “What Juneau About Real Estate?” In a May episode, she said she just wasn’t buying it.

“The city also said, ‘Oh, no, we’re never going to put in a transfer tax,'” she said. “I’m calling bulls – because you broke your word. You changed the game for everyone!

She was referring to the update the Assembly gave in February on the disclosure mandate. At first, the information had to be kept confidential. But after landowners objected to their assessments demanding more transparency, the Assembly dropped confidentiality.

The February update also added the possibility of fines for failing to disclose. Juneau Assessor Mary Hammond said Wednesday that so far no one has been fined for it.

The main argument of proponents of real estate disclosure is more nuanced. At a forum last week, Carole Triem, a member of the Assembly and an unopposed candidate, said she was voting against repeal and wanted to keep the mandate in place.

“I think there’s a lot of misinformation out there,” she said. “Mandatory disclosure will help reduce property taxes for middle and low income homeowners because we’re going to even that out with higher income properties that don’t come on the market as frequently.”

Let’s unbox this. Why Mandatory Disclosures Would Lower Property Tax Bills for middle and low income homeowners? And why aren’t high-income property owners already “balanced”? »

Without the warrant, the appraiser’s office already had a lot of publicly available market information for common types of real estate sales, such as subdivision homes. The more market data it has, the more confident it is that its valuations are accurate and fair.

But for extraordinary properties, such as custom homes or commercial buildings, the market is much smaller, sales are less frequent, and they tend to be more private. So the appraiser’s office has to make more guesses about Juneau’s most valuable properties.

The city’s chief financial officer said in a memo that the assessor’s office tends to undervalue properties about which it has limited information. The nonpartisan Alaska Legislative Research Service looked into the matter in 2014, and its researcher came to the same conclusion statewide.

Basically, Triem thinks the warrant will boost assessments of Juneau’s most expensive but generally undervalued properties and have little effect on assessments of more common properties.

“Having this information about the housing market, this crazy housing market that we’ve seen, will only help buyers and sellers if they have a completely transparent view of, you know, the housing market,” Triem said. . “They’ll be able to make the best decisions based on that and not be secret and guarded by, you know, the experts who will release that information when they feel it’s beneficial to them. So I urge people to vote against this, to vote no on mandatory disclosure.

A property’s assessed value is only one component of its annual tax bill. The property tax rate, also known as the rate per mile, is the other main factor. And every year, as part of its budget process, the Juneau Assembly revisits it.

For most properties, the tax bill is calculated by simply multiplying its taxable value by the mill rate. For most of Juneau, this rate is 1.056%.

We asked several members of the Assembly what they would do if there was a sharp increase in the overall property assessment. Responses varied, but lowering the property tax rate was on the table.

For more reports and resources on the Juneau local election, visit KTOO’s local elections page.

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