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Property Tax Resources

Nov
14

Oregon Law Offers Potential For Property Tax Reductions

Properties under construction and projects subject to governmental restriction can take advantage of legislative provisions the state provides.

The Portland metropolitan area is undergoing an unprecedented boom in commercial construction that extends from downtown to the suburbs and into just about every product type.Many taxpayers are preparing to pay larger tax bills, either because they are developing one of those new projects, or because they own properties that are becoming more valuable in response to growing demand for redevelopment sites. This is particularly common in developed areas where infill construction is hot.

Taxpayers in either of those positions may be missing out on significant tax savings if they are unaware of two provisions of Oregon law that could offer some respite. The Oregon legislative has carved out property tax provisions for a property under construction and for a property subject to a governmental restriction. The savvy property owner needs to know about these opportunities and comply with the statutory requirements to achieve the tax benefit.

The provisions are especially relevant to Portland's latest round of development, much of which is concentrated around infill in neighborhoods and on properties that were once used for industrial activities.

It is important to remember that Oregon law bases property taxes on the real market value of the property or the maximum assessed value under the Oregon Limits on Property Tax Rates Amendment of 1997. Also known as Measure 50, this amendment imposed restrictions on future increases in assessed values and on tax rates. Taxing entities multiply the assessed value by the tax rate to calculate the taxes owed.

The state defines "real market value" as the price an informed buyer would pay to an informed seller in an arms-length transaction. The statute goes on to state that if the property is subject to a governmental restriction as to use, "the property's real market value must reflect the effect of those restrictions."

That brings us to the tax-saving opportunities associated with usage restrictions and construction. Taxpayers typically think of government restrictions only as zoning law or a conditional land-use limitation. Often overlooked are environmental restrictions on a property's use, such as when the federal Environmental Protection Agency or the Department of Environmental Quality has identified the land as a contaminated site.

When a property is governed by a qualified environmental remediation plan, it is subject to a governmental restriction on the property's use. Obviously, the contamination and the future costs of remediation or containment significantly reduce the property's real market value.

One way to measure the reduction in market value caused by the government's environmental restrictions is to calculate the present value of the future clean-up costs. The assessing authority will consider the responsibility and costs of remediation or containment, and will usually reduce the real market value of the property significantly.

Another common governmental usage restriction occurs when a governmental agency provides low-interest loans or tax incentives as a means of encouraging development of certain types of public interest projects, such as low-income housing. The government loan will typically require that the property reserve a number of units for lease at a below-market rent.

In Oregon, the statute allows the property owner to choose whether it wants to enter into the special assessment program for low-income housing. A caution to the property owner that enters into the special assessment program for low-income housing is that the property could become subject to back taxes if it later fails to meet the requirements of the county, or of the loan.

Importantly, the statute does not require the property owner to enter the special assessment program to achieve the tax benefit of certain low-income housing units, as long as the loan meets certain statutory requirements and is properly recorded.

Not to be missed is the construction-in-progress exemption, which is available for income-producing properties. Most states encourage the development of commercial and industrial facilities by sheltering construction projects from the payment of taxation until the property is in use or occupied, and therefore generating rental income or enabling an owner-occupier to pursue business activities there.

The construction exemption requires strict compliance with the statute, and inadvertently failing to meet one of the criteria could cost the property owner a year of tax savings. The exemption isn't limited to manufacturing facilities; the Oregon Tax Court has held that this tax exemption is also available to a condominium under construction, provided that the units were held for sale until its completion.

While taxpayers in Portland's hot construction market enjoy many opportunities to take advantage of tax reductions, owners all across the state should be on the alert for these potential reductions.

Cynthia M. Fraser is a partner at the law firm Garvey Schubert Barer where she specializes in property tax and condemnation litigation. Ms. Fraser is the Oregon representative of American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. Ms. Fraser can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
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Jan
01

Oregon Property Tax Updates

UPDATED december 2018

Seneca Sustainable Energy, LLC v. Department of Revenue

Seneca Sustainable Energy, LLC v. Department of Revenue, (TC 5193, 5208) (S064613)

On appeal from a judgment of the Oregon Tax Court, Henry Breithaupt, Judge.  22 OTR 263 (2016).  The judgment of the Tax Court is affirmed.

The Supreme Court held that the Tax Court had jurisdiction to hear challenges by Seneca Sustainable Energy, LLC, to the Department of Revenue’s determinations of the real market value of its industrial property, that Seneca had standing to bring those challenges, and that the Tax Court was correct to determine that the department’s appraisal supporting its real market value determination of Seneca’s industrial property for 2012-2013 was erroneous, insofar as it relied on above-market rates that Seneca received under a power purchase agreement with one of its customers.  Further, it affirmed the Tax Court decision setting the real market values of Seneca’s industrial property on the assessment dates at significantly lower amounts that the department’s valuations.

Seneca began operating a biomass cogeneration facility in Eugene, Oregon, in 2010.  Before the facility was completed, Seneca entered into a power purchase agreement with Eugene Water and Electric Board (EWEB), which, among other things, set the rates that EWEB would pay for electricity.  Seneca’s facility is located in an enterprise zone, and Seneca sought and obtained from the enterprise zone sponsors an exemption from taxes on certain of its industrial property for the first three years of its operation.  The exemption was granted under certain conditions, including the condition that Seneca pay a public benefit contribution if it failed to meet certain economic and development goals.  The public benefit contribution was calculated as a percentage of the property taxes that Seneca would have had to pay if its industrial property had not been tax exempt, and the amount of property taxes due, in turn, was calculated based on the department’s determination of the real market value of Seneca’s industrial property.

Seneca failed to meet its economic and development goals in tax year 2012-2013 and again in tax year 2013-2014, and for each of those years, the zone sponsors imposed public benefit contributions based on the department’s real market value determinations.   Seneca considered the real market value determinations in those years to be excessive and filed actions in the Tax Court to challenge those determinations.  The department filed a motion to dismiss the actions on the ground that the Tax Court did not have jurisdiction to hear the challenges, insofar as Seneca was actually challenging the imposition of the public benefit contributions by the enterprise sponsors and that type of claim did not arise out of the tax laws of the state.  The department also argued that Seneca did not have standing to bring its claims, because it was not a taxpayer and it was not aggrieved by an action of the department, insofar as it was exempt from taxation.  The tax court ruled that it did have jurisdiction over Seneca’s challenges to the real market value determination and that Seneca had standing to bring its claims.

The Tax Court conducted a trial on the merits of Seneca’s claims, during which the parties submitted appraisals of Seneca’s industrial property to support their respective views on an appropriate real market value determination.  The department’s appraiser based his determination of real market value on his understanding that the rates set out in Seneca’s power purchase agreement with EWEB were rates that a purchaser of the facility could expect to receive for electricity during the tax years at issue and into the future.  Seneca presented evidence that, for various reasons, as of the assessment dates, the power purchase agreement produced revenues significantly above what a purchaser of the property on those dates could have obtained.  The Tax Court agreed with Seneca and found, as a factual matter, that, because of changes to the market after Seneca had entered into the power purchase agreement, the rates in the power purchase agreement would not have been available to a purchaser of the facility as of the assessment dates.  The Tax Court also found that the department’s appraisal contained certain significant errors and adopted an incorrect approach, which rendered it unpersuasive.  The Tax Court generally agreed with Seneca’s approach and set real market values for the property consistent with that approach.

The department appealed the Tax Court’s determination of the real market value of Seneca’s cogeneration facility to the Supreme Court, arguing that the Tax Court erred in denying its motion to dismiss Seneca’s complaints and that the Tax Court erred in determining the real market value of Seneca’s industrial property without reference to the terms of the power purchase agreement.

In a unanimous opinion authored by Justice Adrienne C. Nelson, the Supreme Court affirmed the decisions of the Tax Court.  With respect to the department’s procedural arguments, the Court held that the Tax Court had had jurisdiction over Seneca’s claims for relief – a determination that the real market value did not exceed a certain value and an order requiring the department to place the correct real market value on the tax rolls – because both those claims arose under the tax laws of the State of Oregon.  Further, it ruled that Seneca had standing to bring those challenges, because it was a “taxpayer” for purposes of the tax laws, even if most of its property was exempt from taxation, and it was “aggrieved and affected’ by the department’s real market value determination, because that determination affected the amount of property tax that Seneca had been required to pay on its non-exempt industrial property. 

Regarding the determinations of the real market value of Seneca’s property, the Court agreed with the Tax Court’s conclusion that it was inappropriate to consider the power purchase agreement between Seneca and EWEB. The value of intangible contract rights cannot be taken into account to the extent that they produce returns in excess of those obtainable in the market.  The Tax Court had found as a fact that the agreement did not reflect market rates as of the assessment dates, and the Court accepted that factual finding because it was supported by substantial evidence in the record.  The Court also noted that the Tax Court had concluded that the department’s appraiser had made other serious errors in valuing Seneca’s property, which made the department’s appraisal unpersuasive, and that the department had not challenged that conclusion on appeal.  Because many of the department’s arguments were predicated on its contention that its appraiser correctly determined that Seneca’s power purchase agreement with EWEB reflected market rates, and because the department’s appraisal contained other serious errors, the Court affirmed the Tax Court’s real market value determinations for Seneca’s industrial property.

Cynthia M. Fraser
Garvey Schubert Barer P.C.
American Property Tax Counsel (APTC)

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Sep
23

Does a Property's Sale Price Really Equal the Taxable Market Value

The question arises all too often: Is the recent sale price of a property the best evidence of the property's taxable value?

Basic appraisal principles dictate that market value is the price upon which a willing buyer and willing seller would agree. Coming out of the recent recession, however, assessors continue to question whether the purchase prices paid for commercial or industrial properties reflect the properties' market value.

The confusion derives from the distressed sales that dominated commercial real estate transaction activity during the recession. As tenants defaulted on leases and property incomes plummeted, many owners were either compelled to sell their real estate in order to avoid foreclosure, or gave their underwater properties back to lenders. A number of lenders simply sold those assets after foreclosure at liquidation prices, adding to the volume of sales at distressed pricing levels.

Where the majority of sales of similar types of property are distressed, those sales may become the market, establishing pricing even for non-distressed sellers. To assert a higher taxable value on a property in this scenario, the assessor would have to demonstrate that these sales defy current economic conditions.

Now, as the country's economy begins to improve and property owners remain cautiously optimistic that the recession is ending, which recent sales truly represent market value? It is a challenging question for property owners and assessors seeking to use recent transactions for sales comparisons in order to determine current market value and taxable value of a property.

In many parts of the country, there was a complete dearth of sales and little construction activity during the downturn. In those areas, the sale of a property may have been the only transaction that occurred in that market in several years, with no other sales available for comparison.

With the uptick in the economy, assessors are latching onto recent transactions as fully indicative of a new market, and are inflating assessed taxable values in the process. Distinguishing the value indicated by a property's sale price remains vital to having it correctly assessed.

One reason that evaluating a sale for tax purposes requires more than just looking at the closing price is that the sale price may reflect financial incentives and tax-exempt components included to motivate the buyer or seller. For example, sale prices paid for restaurants, hotels, nursing homes and some industrial plants may reflect the value of the business enterprise, as opposed to just the real estate.

In Oregon, California and Washington, many intangible assets may be exempt from taxation for most properties. Thus, for purposes of determining the property's taxable market value, the appraiser or assessor must determine and exclude the value of the intangible rights relating to the business.

In Oregon, properties other than those used in power generation or other utility services may have tax-exempt intangible assets including goodwill, customer contract rights, patents, trademarks, copyrights, an assembled labor force, or trade secrets. Properly separating real estate value from the business enterprise value can substantially reduce the assessed value.

Additionally, an often overlooked influence on the sale price may be the existence of a sale- leaseback provision. In Oregon and many other states, real market value for tax purposes involves a willing seller and willing buyer in an open-market transaction, without consideration of the actual leases in place.

Thus, in the sale of a building fully leased to an ongoing enterprise that sets the buyer's anticipated rate of return, the assessor must extract the existing lease value and instead apply market lease and occupancy rates to arrive at the real market value for taxation purposes. In other words, whether the leases in place at a sold property are at, above, or below market rates affects the relationship of its sale price to taxable value.

Assessment requires more than simply assuming that the sale price is the sole indicator of value. For a vacant property, the sale price may be the best indicator of value. But any transaction used to establish market value for tax purposes needs to be thoroughly vetted. Taxpayers should keep these principles in mind when reviewing the assessor's process to set the taxable value of their real estate.

CfraserCynthia M. Fraser is a partner at the law firm Garvey Schubert Barer where she specializes in property tax and condemnation litigation. Ms. Fraser is the Oregon representative of American Property Tax Counsel, the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. Ms. Fraser can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Jan
19

Highest And Best Property Use: Why Does It Matter?

"Any investor wants to maximize his property's value and income-producing potential, but many fail to take this concept seriously — until they realize what they could be missing out on"

Who cares about the highest and best use of a property? Well, appraisers certainly care, and when a property ends up in litigation, the judge cares. Understanding how these authorities determine value will make it clear that commercial property owners should care about highest and best use, too.

I learned the importance of highest and best use during my first year at the Department of Justice, in a small condemnation or government taking case. The property owner had a single-family home on a prime piece of commercial real estate, and a highway expansion was bringing traffic lanes to within 12 feet of the house. The property had been rezoned commercial and was surrounded by other commercial uses.

As a residential asset, the entire property before partial condemnation had appraised at $140,000, whereas the land as a commercial site was worth double that amount. Because the highest and best use of the property was redevelopment as a commercial site, the value for the land taken as right of way was worth more than the residential value of the entire, previously undivided property.

Not all analyses of highest and best use are so simple and obvious. This is particularly true in the context of appraising an industrial property for a property tax appeal. The standard test for determining highest and best use has four prongs, and each can be critical to the valuation of the property.

That question is: What use is legally permissible, physically possible, financially feasible and maximally profitable?

The first prong, what is legally permissible, refers to zoning or other governmental restrictions, as well as the deed restrictions, and the uses that those parameters allow for the property. In a recent case, a 57-acre property was zoned industrial, which allowed for offices as an accessory use to the industrial use. Improvements included several older flex manufacturing buildings totaling close to 600,000 square feet. The condition and use of the flex buildings varied but the need to use the structures primarily for manufacturing no longer existed.

The Oregon Department of Revenue's appraisal valued the majority of the 600,000 square feet as office use. This did not meet the test for what is legally permissible, because the zoning only allowed office as an accessory to an industrial use.

What is financially feasible? In this same case, the appraiser for the Department of Revenue also failed to address if it was cost effective to reconfigure several 80,000-square-foot, two-story flex manufacturing facilities for multitenant use. The government's appraisal lacked any discussion of the basic demising costs to create smaller rentable spaces, including common areas for hallways, lobbies, and relocation of elevators and restrooms.

What is physically possible? Many of the industrial buildings in this example were interconnected. They had shared utilities, were situated on a single tax lot and offered only limited access without dedicated parking for a given building. Separation of the buildings into viable stand-alone parcels may have been prohibited by the physical location of the utilities, the placement of the buildings on the lot, or by parking, ingress and egress to the site.

The fourth prong is often the simplest to address. Of the possible uses meeting the first three facets of the highest-and-best-use test, which offers the maximum profit for the owner?

An appraiser's failure to do a highest-and-best-use analysis and appropriately support its conclusions can be fatal in a trial setting. In a 1990 decision, Freedom Federal Savings & Loan vs. Department of Revenue, the Oregon Supreme Court held that highest and best use of the property subject to evaluation is the first question that must be addressed in a credible appraisal. This set the critical framework for valuation, and determines what other comparable properties can be used to value the subject property.

These highest-and-best-use tests must be appropriately supported. In the context of an investment property, for example, would an investor deem the current use to be most productive from a financial or physical basis for the property, or would an alternative use be preferable?

If a careful highest-and-best-use analysis is done at the beginning, the appraiser can select credible comparable sales or leases for use in valuation. The property owner, in turn, will be treated fairly, whether in a tax assessment appeal or an eminent domain acquisition.

CfraserCynthia M. Fraser is an attorney at Garvey Schubert Barer where she specializes in property tax and condemnation litigation. The firm is the Oregon and Washington member of the American Property Tax Counsel the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. Ms. Fraser can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Oct
27

Madness in the Method Inflates Property Assessments

Though a few large companies may be expanding in the Portland region, it won't necessarily be a boon to property owners.

"The madness is in the method of assessment, because it is impossible for the assessor to physically inspect and appraise each property on its rolls. Instead, the assessor will typically add up a taxpayer's historical investments in a property as reported each year..."

The real estate headlines in Oregon newspapers this month kindled cautious optimism that the economy is in full recovery. One article touted a boom in the residential and commercial markets of Canby, a Portland suburb, while another trumpeted a bash to kick off a $25 million, mixed-use development in downtown Portland.

These positive headlines added to the stimulating effects of last year's expansion announcements by Nike and Intel. News of those companies' plans for growth in Hillsboro bolstered the industrial, office, and residential markets in the Sunset Corridor.

Industrial property owners, be vigilant. This uptick in the economic outlook does not mean there should be a corresponding increase in a property's real market value and a corresponding over-assessment of the property.

It should be simple to spot an inflated assessment. By statute, a property is assessed at its real market value, defined as what a willing buyer and willing seller would agree upon in an open market transaction. Assessments are also subject to Measure 50's maximum assessed value limitations. The assessed value is the lower of the maximum assessed value or the real market value.

Yet over-assessments are common, and the reasons numerous. Despite the economic uptick, there are still significant economic impacts to industry in Oregon resulting in over-valuation of property by the Counties and the Department of Revenue.

The madness is in the method of assessment, because it is impossible for the assessor to physically inspect and appraise each property on its rolls. Instead, the assessor will typically add up a taxpayer's historical investments in a property as reported each year, and equate the cumulative sum of those investments to the real market value of the property — without any regard to market conditions.

Market conditions that impact a company and the real market value of the property can be significant, particularly for an industrial property. Take a high tech campus that was built in the 1970's and designed for a single user. Back then, tech firms favored flex buildings designed for manufacturing, research and development, assembly, and distribution with a typical floor plate of 40,000 square feet. No thought went into an exit strategy when planning the design or layout of the access, parking, integrated utility systems, and location of the buildings on the property.

Fast forward to 2013, when globalization generally calls for overseas assembly plants and distribution centers located strategically to the company's global market. The need for a single-user campus with six or more dated, 100,000-square-foot flex buildings that share interconnected utilities on a single tax lot is gone. Globalization is an economic force that is external to a company and one that drives down the market price of these facilities. It is a form of obsolescence that is rarely accounted for in a property valuation.

Another factor that assessors typically overlook at industrial sites is functional obsolescence. Consider a facility built 30 or 40 years ago. Technology for the manufacturing processes may have advanced over the years, but the building design, including the ceiling height or floor load, may limit the use of the new technology. The overall utility of the property suffers from functional obsolescence that impairs the market value.

The assessor often lacks the people power to drill down into the details of every property. Because property value reflects not only local market conditions, but also the inherent functional and economic obsolescence unique to the property, a property being taxed solely on a trending basis may be over-assessed.

CfraserCynthia M. Fraser is an attorney at Garvey Schubert Barer where she specializes in property tax and condemnation litigation. The firm is the Oregon and Washington member of the American Property Tax Counsel the national affiliation of property tax attorneys. Ms. Fraser can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Mar
13

April 1 An Important Date for Property Taxpayers

"April 1 is the last day to file for these cancellations, exemptions and special assessments, and assessing authorities do not have discretion to accept a late filing."

By David Canary, Esq., as published by The Daily Journal of Commerce, March 13th 2007

April 15th is "tax day" for federal and state income taxpayers, but April 1 is equally important to property taxpayers that wish to avoid paying property taxes for the upcoming year. There are a host of exemptions for selected types of properties for which applications or statements must be filed with the local county assessor or the Oregon Department of Revenue on or before April 1. Those exemptions include:

Cancellation of assessment for commercial facilities under construction

New buildings or additions to existing buildings are exempt from property tax assessment for up to two years while under construction. The structure must have been under construction on Jan. 1, 2007, not used or occupied before that time and constructed in the furtherance of the production of income (e.g. an industrial or commercial building or condo). In the case of a nonmanufacturing facility, the structure must first be used or occupied not less than one year from the time construction commenced.

For a manufacturing facility, any machinery and equipment located at the construction site that is or will be installed in or affixed to the structure under construction may also be exempt.

Cancellation of assessment of pollution control facilities

A pollution control facility constructed in accordance with specific Oregon statutes and that has been certified by the state Environmental Quality Commission may be exempt to the extent of the highest percentage figure certified by the commission as the portion of the actual cost properly allocable to the prevention, control or reduction of pollution.

Exemption of nonprofit student housing

Housing that is rented exclusively to students of any educational institution which offers at least a two-year program acceptable for full credit toward a bachelor's degree may be exempt from certain ad valorem assessment. The exemption applies to student housing of an educational institution that is either public or private.

Exemption of low-income housing

Property owned or being purchased by a nonprofit corporation that is occupied by low income residents or held for future development as low-income housing, or a portion thereof, may qualify for tax exemption.

Exemption of ethanol production facilities

The real and personal property of an ethanol production facility may qualify for exemption of 50 percent of the assessed value of its property for up to five assessment years.

Exemption of rural healthcare facilities

The real and personal property of a health care facility with an average travel time of more than 30 minutes from a population center of 30,000 or more may be exempt from property taxation if the property constitutes new construction, new additions, new modifications or new installations of property as of Jan. 1.

Additionally, the exemption must be authorized by the county governing body in which the facility is located. The exemption can be for up to three years.

Exemption of long-term care facilities

The real and personal property of a nursing facility, assisted living facility, residential care facility or adult foster home may qualify for exemption if the facility has been certified for the tax year as an essential community long-term care facility.

The state Legislature specifically declared that a property tax exemption would enable essential long-term care facilities to increase the quality of care provided to the residents because the full value of the exemption is applied to increasing the direct caregiver wages and physical plant improvements that directly benefit the facility residents and staff.

Special assessment of nonexclusive farm-use zoned farmland

Any land that is not within an exclusive farm use zone but that is being used, and has been used for the preceding two years, exclusively for farm use may qualify for farm use special assessment if the gross income derived from the farming operation meets a certain amount that depends upon the size of the farmland.

Special assessment of designated forestland in Western and Eastern Oregon

Forestland being held or used for the predominant purpose of growing and harvesting trees of a marketable species and that has been designated as forestland or land in either Western or Eastern Oregon, the highest and best use of which is the growing and harvesting of trees may qualify for special assessment if certain other requirements are met and a timely application filed.

Taxpayers that believe they qualify for cancellations of assessments, exemptions or special assessments should contact the office of the county assessor in which the property is located or contact the Oregon Department of Revenue to request application forms and instructions.

The fact that a cancellation, exemption or special assessment is granted for one year does not mean the property automatically qualifies for exemption in subsequent tax years. A number of these cancellations, exemptions and special assessments require that applications be filed with the county assessor or the state Department of Revenue each year. That is, an exemption or special assessment may be lost if an application is not filed in each successive year.

April 1 is the last day to file for these cancellations, exemptions and special assessments, and assessing authorities do not have discretion to accept a late filing.

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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Jan
15

Now's Time to Prep '07 Personal, Industrial Property Returns

"Penalties for failure to file a personal property return on time can range from 5 percent to 50 percent of the taxes attributable to the personal property. This penalty can be waived only upon a proper showing of good and sufficient cause - which does not include inadvertence, mistake, reliance upon advice from a tax professional or lack of knowledge of the filing requirement - or if the year for which the return was filed was both the first year that a return was required to be filed and the first year for which the taxpayer filed a return."

By David Canary, Esq., as published by The Daily Journal of Commerce, January 9th, 2007

Jan. 2 is the date when all property subject to taxation is identified and required to be listed in real and personal property tax returns. All taxable real and personal property is valued for assessment purposes as of Jan. 1. And ownership and responsibility for payment of taxes are determined as of Jan. 1.

Now that the bowl games are over and the Christmas lights have been taken down, property owners are well advised to take stock of the status and use of their real and personal property as of Jan. 1 in preparation for filing their real and personal property tax returns by the March 1 deadline.

Non-exempt personal property subject to assessment, taxation

Every year, the Oregon Tax Court hands down numerous opinions enforcing penalties on up to 50 percent of the taxes upon businesses and individuals that failed to file personal property tax returns. In some cases, the taxes and penalties assessed go back five years, and the tax court has no jurisdiction to waive penalties because of a taxpayer's lack of knowledge of the filing requirement.

So let's be clear. All personal property not exempt from property taxation shall be valued and assessed at its real market value as of jan. 1. Personal property held for personal use is exempt. Licensed motor vehicles are exempt. Inventory held for sale in the ordinary course of business is exempt. And certain farm machinery and equipment is exempt. Assessment of personal property worth less than $12,500 may be canceled upon filing a verified statement with the county assessor.

Every person and every managing agent or officer of any firm, corporation or association owning, or having in its possession, non-exempt personal property on Jan. 1 must file a personal property tax return with the county assessor by March 1 of each year, but the assessor, upon written request filed before the deadline, shall allow an extension to April 15.

As between a mortgagor and mortgagee, or a lessor and lessee, the actual owner and the person in possession may agree between themselves as to who files the return and pays the tax. However, both parties will be jointly and severally liable for the failure of either party to timely file a personal property return, including penalties.

The personal property return is required to contain: a full listing of the personal property owned or in the taxpayer's possession as of Jan. 1; a statement of its real market value; a separate listing of those items claimed to be exempt as imports or exports; a listing of the additions and retirements made since the prior Jan. 1, indicating the book cost and the date of acquisition or retirement; and the name, assumed business name and address of each general partner (or, if it is a corporation, the name and address of the registered agent). The return shall be annexed an affidavit or affirmation of the person making the return that the statements contained in the return are true. Return forms may be obtained from the office of the county assessor.

Penalties for failure to file a personal property return on time can range from 5 percent to 50 percent of the taxes attributable to the personal property. This penalty can be waived only upon a proper showing of good and sufficient cause - which does not include inadvertence, mistake, reliance upon advice from a tax professional or lack of knowledge of the filing requirement - or if the year for which the return was filed was both the first year that a return was required to be filed and the first year for which the taxpayer filed a return. The imposition of the penalty for late or non-filing of a personal property tax return may be appealed to the county board of property tax appeals.

IPR presents tricky problems

Owners of principal and secondary industrial property must file an industrial property return (IPR). An IPR is a combined return of both real and personal property. The IPR and instructions specifying the information to be included in the return are available on the Oregon Department of Revenue's Web site (search for "industrial property return form").

Essentially, the IPR requires the same sort of information as the personal property return: listing of assets, statement of value, book cost and date of acquisition or retirements. However, unlike a personal property return, an IPR requires a great deal more detail. For example, in addition to reporting the cost of acquiring a piece of machinery, the industrial taxpayer must report the cost of transportation, engineering, installation and special foundation, piping and wiring. Then there is the tricky problem of correctly reporting the cost and value of rebuilds, remodels, upgrades and capital maintenance to industrial plants. And, of course, as with personal property, failure to file the IPR by the March 1 deadline subjects an industrial taxpayer to late a filing fee and penalty.

Owners, lessors and lessees of personal or industrial property are well advised to begin preparing now for the march 1 filing deadline that is fast approaching.

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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Dec
12

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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