Officials defend property tax assessments
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By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser City Hall Writer
In response to public complaints about rising property assessments, city officials who set the value of properties each year are defending the tax notices they mailed last month as a sign that home prices are going up.
At the request of Councilman Duke Bainum, city property assessment administrator Gary Kurokawa and assessor Robert Magota explained the process to the Council's Budget Committee yesterday.
Property owners have been receiving assessment notices along with an estimate of what their taxes are likely to be if the City Council sets the rates at the same level as last year.
Many of the complaints are coming from Windward O'ahu, the region from Waimanalo to Waikane, where the average increase is 8.7 percent; East Honolulu, from Diamond Head to Makapu'u, 7.8 percent increase; and the Nu'uanu to Manoa, 6.4 percent.
Lower interest rates have helped to spur sales, and real estate agents are seeing home sales "higher than at any time since the 1990s," said Ryan Yamauchi of the Honolulu Board of Realtors.
Yamauchi said the advantage to homeowners in rising assessments is that they find their property is worth more. But, on the other hand, their tax bills also go up.
Council Budget Chairman Steve Holmes said the council usually has responded to sharp increases in assessments by decreasing the tax rates.
"During the years where assessments went down after the peak of market in the late '80s, the council responded and adjusted the rate," Holmes said. "When the market goes one way, we adjust in one direction; when the market goes the other, we typically do the same."
Bainum said people wonder why assessments go up even when homeowners make no improvements.
Kurokawa said, "The market has improved, the value is increasing."
Tax assessors evaluate about 260,000 properties each year and try to determine the most probable price a property would bring in a competitive market.
The deadline for property owners to appeal assessments is Tuesday.