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Bill to bring transparency to property tax bills moves forward, may see changes

Bill to bring transparency to property tax bills moves forward, may see changes

Dustin Hurst
February 16, 2017
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February 16, 2017

A bill sponsors say will bring more transparency to the tax statements most property owners receive passed out of committee Thursday, but might yet change.

House Revenue and Taxation Committee members approved House Bill 154 Thursday, but sent it to the House’s amending order, where members can request changes to legislation.

The bill would require county treasurers to disclose more information about tax bonds which cities, counties and schools use to fund major projects, including new buildings. Treasurers would have to disclose on a property tax bill a project name, its levy rate and payoff date and the dollar amount of each bond held by each taxing district in the current year and the previous two years.

Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, the bill’s sponsor, said his plan would bring additional transparency to a subject of some confusion for Idahoans.

“Citizens who are paying for these bonds ought to know what they’re paying for,” Nate told colleagues during the committee meeting Thursday.

The taxpayer-funded Idaho Association of Counties opposes the measure because it would likely burden county officials with extra labor and material costs without providing cash to cover the expenses, Kelli Brassfield, a staff liaison for the association, told the panel.

Counties could be forced to spend hundreds of hours of staff time in the larger counties toreprogram computers and compiling additional data for tax bills, Brassfield said.

Donna Peterson, the Payette County treasurer, went further, telling legislators the amount of information Nate is asking for from counties isn’t possible to provide.

“There is just too much information to be placed on a county tax bill,” Peterson said.

Brian Stutzman of Iona, a property owner who asked Nate to bring the bill, said he grew curious about his tax payments after spending more than an hour tracking down bond information. Adding the new data, Stutzman told the panel, wouldn’t prove difficult and costs wouldn’t spike significantly.

When questioned about mandating expanded bond information on tax bills, Stutzman testified it is a matter of good public policy.  “I don’t think any taxpayer should have to dig as deep as I did [to find bond data],” he said. “It should come to them with their bill.”

Rep. Janet Trujillo, R-Idaho Falls, motioned to send the bill to the House’s amending order, requesting the requirement to look back two years at bond costs. Committees cannot ask for specific changes.

Rep. Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, placed a substitute motion to send the bill forward without changes. He expressed concern about sending it to the amending order, where lawmakers can freely tinker with legislation.

“If we send it to the amending order, all bets are off, as we all know,” Hartgen said. “I am going to support the bill for transparency reasons. It doesn't strike me as inordinate.”

Boise Democrat John Gannon told the panel he doesn’t think the financial burden to meet the bill’s mandates would be too great for counties to bear.  “I don't think the expenses are as great as they might appear to be,” Gannon said.

Hartgen’s motion failed and panel members approved without dissent Trujillo’s motion to send the bill to the amending order.

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