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Looking Back on 2006 - and Forward to 2007

"The decrease in a business' property taxes can be substantial. For example, the property taxes saved or paid in each of the above three examples easily exceed several million dollars. Do I have your interest now?"

By David Canary, Esq., as published by The Daily Journal of Commerce, December 12, 2006

A host of property-tax issues impacted the Oregon business community last year, and more issues will soon arise

For those of you who have faithfully followed this column, you know I have devoted it primarily to property tax issues. How relevant are those issues to the business community? How relevant are property taxes to the decisions that companies make on a day-in, day-out basis?

Because this is the time of year for retrospection, let's get some answers by looking back on some of the issues discussed in this column and compare them to what happened in our business community in 2006.

The unintended consequences of using Measure 37

In a March column, I discussed the potential unintended consequences of filing a Measure 37 claim. For properties that receive special assessments, such as farm- or forestlands, county assessors keep track of the amount of property taxes that are deferred for the years that those properties are assessed at below-market values. When such a land is taken out of special assessment and used for a higher and better use - say, a residential subdivision - those deferred taxes become due.

Last month, the Seattle-based Plum Creek Timber Co. filed the largest Measure 37 claims on record. The company filed Measure 37 claims seeking permission to develop 32,000 acres of forestland in two coastal Oregon counties into home sites - or to be paid for the difference in value of the land as forestland. Let's hope the company took into account the hundreds of thousands of dollars in deferred property taxes it may be subject to as a result of filing its Measure 37 claims.

Contamination adversely affects values

In an April column, I discussed the fact that, under Oregon's system of assessment at the lower of a property's real-market or maximum-assessed value, environmentally contaminated property is assessed at its market value less the present value of the future cost to cure, or clean up, the contamination. Those costs can be substantial.

Late in November a substantial decrease in property taxes on land located along Portland's South Waterfront was questioned. Upon investigation, the decrease was found to be justified because it took into account the substantial costs to clean up the contamination on the site.

Two-Year Exemption for Construction of Commercial Property

In my June column, I discussed a ruling in which the Oregon Tax Court held that a property-tax exemption for commercial facilities under construction applied to condominiums that were built for resale.

This fall, in a controversial - yet correct - decision, Multnomah County exempted from assessment some South Waterfront a Pearl District residential condominiums that were under construction as of January 1 of the assessment year but were to be sold later that year. At the same time, other homeowners paid the full amount of their taxes.

Should you care about property taxes? For a company that has made substantial investments in plant, property and equipment over the years, property taxes can be a substantial expense of doing business.

Our Legislature has provided for a number of exemptions and special assessments to either encourage development and capital investment or to preserve certain types of property. Over-valuation of property by the assessor can occur for a myriad number of reasons. the savvy property owner not only knows and takes advantage of the allowable exemptions but is ever vigilant about overassessment.

The decrease in a business' property taxes can be substantial. For example, the property taxes saved or paid in each of the above three examples easily exceed several million dollars. Do I have your interest now?

Looking ahead to 2007

First, please note that to pursue an appeal in 2007 you must file an appeal of your 2006 taxes with your county's board of property tax appeals by Jan. 2, 2007. Otherwise, you will have to wait another year to contest your assessment.

Second, in 2007 you can expect the Legislature to consider proposals to completely overhaul Oregon's public finance system. Proposals will range from reductions to the capital gains, estate and property taxes to the creation of a substantial rainy-day fund and a restructuring and reduction of state income taxes. These measures will precede a proposal to embed a sales tax into Oregon's constitution that cannot be increased except by a vote of Oregon citizens. Of course, because of Oregon's initiative process, you can expect any new taxes the Legislature proposes to be challenged. 2007 will be interesting.

Consequently, this column next year will discuss not only relevant property-tax issues that affect a company's bottom line but also changes proposed to Oregon's state and local tax systems. Until then, have a great holiday season.

Canary90David Canary has specialized in state and local tax litigation for the past 18 years. He has worked for the past 13 years as an owner in the Portland office of Garvey Schubert Barer and prior to that was an assistant attorney general representing the Oregon Department of Revenue. He has the distinction of trying several of the largest tax cases in Oregon's history. He is the Oregon member of American Property Tax Counsel and an active member of the Association of Oregon Industries' Fiscal Policy Council. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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