Questions of transparency arose this week during the Nome Board of Equalization’s two-day meeting, Wednesday and Thursday, May 31, and June 1.
The board took up appeals to property assessment values both days.
One of the appeals came from Nome resident John Bockman. He appealed an assessment of just over $350k for land and a structure on the grounds that he should be granted an exemption because of enhancements to the home’s exterior. He also said the board’s process for determining exemptions is not transparent.
“Property owners have no way of understanding how the city makes exemption determinations,” Bockman said. “In particular, what factors the city considers on determining exemptions. The city needs to establish a transparent and consistent process. In determining property exemptions, it needs to make the process available to the public.”
Bockman also expressed criticism regarding property tax chapters in the city code, saying, “For the last three years, we’ve been asking questions, making requests for information … we even submitted a dissertation, as a council member described it, to the city council recommending amendments be made to the property tax chapters in the city’s book of ordinances. The amendments should make the process transparent.”
Appraiser Arne Erickson is with Appraisal Company of Alaska. He explained part of the process he uses when assessing a property.
“For the most part, we figure properties are average in quality when you compare them to their neighbors,” Erickson said. “So, if we had five houses in a row, all 1,200 square feet, we would use the same per square foot value (for) each one initially.”
Many factors go into the starting point for an assessment, Erickson says, including construction materials, adjustments for foundation and roofing types, and the age of a structure.
“We look at the outside construct, and there is a difference between T-111, vinyl, metal, wood, wood shakes,” Erickson said. “So, there’s that part. There’s the age. There’s the physical condition.”
Nearly every appeal cited an increase in property valuations – some as high as 15 percent – even if no improvements had been made since 2022. The filing period for appeals closed on Friday, April 28.
But a 15 percent hike is not even close to the highest ones seen in Alaska this year. Appraisal Company of Alaska also assessed properties in Wrangell, a town of just more than 2,000 residents in Southeast. That community saw a nearly 50 percent increase.
Martins Onskulis performed the assessments in Wrangell.
“For Wrangell, I think that quite a few properties, most of the town, were just undervalued in the past,” Onskulis said. “And then in past two or three years, we really did see much larger increase in the properties.”
Property taxes are calculated each year by multiplying the mill rate by the assessed value of the property. Nome’s current property tax rate is 11 mills, which means property owners pay $11 for every $1,000 of assessed value.
Image at top: Appraisers Arne Erickson (left) and Martins Onskulis addressed assessment appeals during the Nome Board of Equalization meeting on Wednesday, May 31. Photo by Greg Knight/KNOM