Brenda Josephson: Haines, we have a problem

35
4826
Haines, Alaska

By BRENDA JOSEPHSON

This is the story of how Alaska’s property tax assessment process has failed the Haines community.

This issue affects everyone. We all pay property tax either directly to the borough or through rent payments.

A wise man once told me that local government’s currency is the trust, respect, and goodwill of the people. I concur and believe it is unfortunate that the entire approach of the assessor’s office toward the people of Haines under Contract Assessor Michael Dahle’s guidance appears to be bankrupting the Haines Borough of the currency it once held from the people it serves.

Significant changes were implemented to Haines assessments for 2023. This is not news to property owners because the change is obvious with increases in assessments and tax bills.  The increases are the result of a new mass appraisal methodology that combines the cost method with some market comparison data. This combination creates an exotic hybrid valuation model that ignores actual market sales conditions for property in Haines adding speculative costs to replace existing structures. 

The inevitable result of using this valuation model is a significantly inflated valuation of property for many parcels. This is due to costs to replace existing structures using factors that include modern building codes and architectural standards with current costs of construction materials using professional building contractors and other inflationary factors. 

This approach by its very nature is regressive, shifting a disproportionate tax burden to middle and lower-valued properties owned and rented by those in our community that can least afford it. Buildings that are 20 years or older with functional obsolescence and homebuilt structures are particularly impacted. The injustice that has been created by this regressive taxation scheme will then compound year after year.

It is not a coincidence that we are experiencing the same chaos that brought lawsuits against the City and Borough of Juneau in 2021. Borough Manager, Annette Kreitzer should have known better when she recommended that Dahle be retained as a contract assessor.  

Dahle’s Alaska certification as an assessor expired in 2006 according to Heather Windsor, Certification Board Committee Member, of the Alaska Association of Assessing Officers. His appraiser accreditation in the State of Washington is listed as “suspended” by the Washington Department of Revenue. That is “suspended,” not expired.

Washington State DOR Accredited Appraiser Search

The injustices that are occurring in Haines this year under the direction of Contract Assessor Dahle are systemic and not isolated occurrences. A total of 227 appeals have been filed by Haines residents. Instead of receiving serious inquiries and site visits in response to their appeals many appellants are receiving threatening emails saying that the assessment will be increased if relief is pursued to the Board of Equalization. 

One homeowner received a threat from the Assessor’s Office that his assessments would be increased if he refused to drop his appeals. The appellant continued forward with his appeals and ninety minutes before the deadline for his packet to be submitted for the BOE hearing he received a notification via email that all four properties would be increased.  The building value for two of the properties increased over 33%.  Even a vacant lot went up $10,000.

You can hear the appellant’s BOE testimony yourself from the Haines BOE hearing on October 11, 2023, starting at 26 minutes and 10 seconds (26:10) at the below link:

Haines BOE October 11, 2023

An open letter was recently published in Haines detailing a personal account of the property owner’s experience when the property owner appealed the assessment on their modest property in the Mosquito Lake area of Haines Borough.  In preparation for the BOE hearing the property owners obtained a certified appraisal with a value of $620,000 which was supported by the testimony of a local real estate salesperson with 26 years of experience in Haines.  

Contract Assessor Dahle responded with a recommendation to the BOE to increase the assessment up to $1.1 Million. That is correct, after seeing the appraisal the Assessor’s office adjusted the value up, not down.  

During the hearing Haines BOE members expressed their belief that the appellant met the burden of proof beyond a preponderance of evidence. Their deliberations were interrupted in advance of the vote by Haines Mayor Doug Olerud to discourage finding in the appellant’s favor out of fear that it would set a precedent. Olerud was not a member of the BOE but was acting as chair. His non-voting role should have prevented him from entering the deliberation. 

Apparently, the ability of a property owner to succeed on appeal was unacceptable to the mayor regardless of the overwhelming evidence. All BOE members fell in line with the mayor’s direction. The final decision was $818,700 because it was a number presented by the assessor at one point and seemed like a compromise between the $1.1 Million recommended increase and the appraisal of $620,000.

Haines BOE July 20, 2023

Similar cases have also become publicly known, including a local small business owner and two other heartbreaking appeals that were heard at the Board of Equalization (BOE) meeting on October 5, 2023. Many other residents have dropped their appeals due to the threat of their property assessments being increased further if they pursued justice to the BOE.   

In testimony during the Oct. 5 BOE meeting, one of our neighbors spoke about how difficult it has been to disparage her single mother’s accomplishment and expose the defects of their homebuilt house. She was forced to display the substandard conditions of her abode on the record and in public. This is something that should have been resolved in a private meeting with the assessor where the less fortunate among us have an opportunity to be treated respectfully and with dignity.

You can hear the recording yourself at the following link:  

Haines BOE Hearing October 5, 2023

These types of situations can cause people to feel bullied and helpless that can create a sense of desperation and hopelessness to the point of suicide. Alaska has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation. Haines itself has endured the loss of too many of our friends and neighbors that have taken their own lives in recent years out of a sense of the hopelessness they endured.

This is not a joke or a game to the people who have suffered the indignities that has occurred this year from “city hall.”

We are better than this and our government must be held accountable by the people they serve!

The systemic pattern of threatening property owners with additional increases if appellants continue their appeal to the Board of Equalization will not stop if we consent with silence.  We must stand up and speak out to ensure the government is held accountable.

I do not fault the current assembly that are serving as BOE members. They have been thoughtful and genuinely appear to want to make the right decision. But during their deliberations they have been pressured by Mayor Olerud to side with the Contract Assessor despite statements and overwhelming evidence to the contrary. 

But I do fault a failure by our State and local government to establish checks and balances on the heavy hand of government against the public they serve.

Calls to the State Assessor’s office to expose process errors and Contract Assessor Dahle’s threats to increase assessments if appellants refused to drop their appeal resulted in a BOE retraining that occurred on Sept. 21.  During the retraining, State Assessor Joseph Caissie encouraged the BOE to support the Assessor’s opinion.  

Caissie’s argument was that even if the model the assessor is using consistently established assessments at 150% or even up to 200% of full and true market value that was okay if there is “uniformity.”  In Mr. Caissie’s words, the job of the assembly is not to reduce assessments to market value, but instead “the job of the assembly (is) to set the mill rate lower.” 

Hear the State Assessor’s words of advice to the Haines BOE on this link for the full context of his argument during the training.

Haines BOE State Assessor Retraining September 21, 2023

Unfortunately, the argument that it would be fair and equitable to uphold assessments to more than full and true market value based on the new hybrid valuation method instituted by Dahle in Haines this year fails to hold water for several reasons.

  1. State of Alaska Statute 29.45.110 requires property to be assessed at its “full and true value as of January 1 of the assessment year…the estimated price that the property would bring in an open market and under the then prevailing market conditions in a sale between a willing seller and a willing buyer both conversant with the property and with prevailing general price levels.”  Use of a cost methodology that creates significantly inflated valuation of property fails to meet that mandated assessment valuation.
  2. The regressive nature of the mass appraisal with the exotic hybrid cost methodology disproportionately burdens owners of middle and lower-valued properties. 
  3. Inflating property assessment beyond “full and true value” circumvents the will of the people that live in communities, like Haines, that have enacted millage cap rates to limit the taxation on property.

What is the root cause of the problem that is occurring this year?  It all started eleven months ago when Borough Manager, Annette Kreitzer committed our government to contract with Dahle.  It appears she committed to Dahle without seeking proposals from other contract assessors.  Kreitzer then went to the assembly on December 13, 2022, for a procurement resolution to reward Dahle with a long-term contract paid by you and me, the taxpayers of Haines.  

Dahle previously worked for CBJ in the assessor’s office and was at the center of the chaos in 2021 that occurred when commercial properties received increased assessments to 150% regardless of the area they were located or how the Covid-19 shutdowns affected their industry. 

Multiple property owners sued CBJ in Superior Court with the intention of elevating to the Supreme Court if necessary. CBJ struck a compromise with the appellants that included the municipality enacting an ordinance that required the assessor’s office to work within state and nationally recognized guidelines.

CBJ Ordinance 2022-21(b) adopted December 12, 2022

CBJ Ordinance Archive 89086

CBJ Ordinance 2022-21 BOE Procedure

During this time, a Juneau appellant watched Dahle perform at a BOE hearing in June of 2022. I was informed that during the hearing Dahle publicly disparaged professionals that provide evidence contrary to his assessments and referred to certified appraisers as “hired guns”. The appellant told me he expected Dahle to be present for his appeal to the BOE.  However, Dahle was noticeably absent, and it was announced that he was suddenly “retired.” 

A few short months later Dahle was then invited into our community and offered a contract to work for the Haines Borough by Kreitzer, who is also from Juneau.

Once Kreitzer had Dahle under contract significant changes to assessments were undertaken by putting into place the new regressive methodology.  The people were not provided with transparency or an opportunity for public comment about the potential for unintended consequences.  

What we did receive was a propaganda campaign from borough officials selling the merits of the change as being “fair and equitable” in public statements to KHNS, CVN, and on the record in public meetings.

https://www.chilkatvalleynews.com/story/2023/03/30/news/property-tax-assessments-increase/16889.html

https://www.chilkatvalleynews.com/story/2023/08/03/news/borough-defends-tax-assessments-after-appeals/17266.html

The Haines Borough also officially acknowledged the change in methodology in the FY24 adopted budget. In the “Manager’s Memo” section of the final FY24 Budget Kreitzer documented the following:

We are continuing with a contract assessor in FY24, as he assists in training staff, and continuing the move toward mass appraisal, which will ensure more fairness and equity in property valuations in the coming years.” 

Page 3 of the Manager’s (Page 5 of the FY24 Budget) 

“As we move toward a mass appraisal system that will provide more uniformity and equity in assessments, this year individual property values increased by about 16% over previous years. As we continue down this path, it should result in fewer spikes in property assessments in the future.”  

Page 4 of the Manager’s Report (Page 6 of the FY24 Budget)

Haines Borough FY24 Adopted Budget

Alaska Statute 29.45.150 protects the public’s interests by requiring a municipality to take formal action by resolution or ordinance in advance of enacting a systematic reevaluation.  By requiring formal action, a municipality is required to disclose the new approach and provide an opportunity for the public to weigh in with public comments prior to adopting the change.

Haines Borough failed to provide the public with an opportunity to learn about and provide public comments on the systematic proposed change as required by statute. A Haines resident has received a legal opinion letter which states in part that:      

The manner by which the Haines Borough has assessed real property within the Haines Borough deviates from procedural requirement set out in state law and the Haines Borough ordinances…Without corrective action by the Haines Borough to cure the improper adoption and application of the new assessment methodology and conformity with mandatory timelines for appeals, further action by the Haines Borough Board of Equalization regarding pending property tax appeals violates applicable legal principles.”

When assembly members were made aware of the requirements stated in AS 29.45.150 during public comments at the Sept. 26 assembly meeting, this issue was referred to the borough’s legal firm, Chandler, Falconer, Munson, and Cacciola.  In response, the attorneys issued a 12-page letter explaining why in their opinion it was okay for the Haines Borough to have gone forward with a systematic assessment change without a resolution or act.    

As a former assembly member, I have experience with the borough’s law firm and their ‘circle the wagons’ approach when public concerns are raised about borough actions and / or process issues. My suspicion has always been piqued when I read phrases like, “ambiguous,” “antiquated,” “alternative interpretation” in opinion letters from the borough attorneys. 

Now that the public has called out our government for an alleged violation of Alaska Statute 29.45.150 which, the government is now claiming there has not been a systematic reevaluation. But the record speaks for itself.  You can hear Dahle himself state that there is a plan to change to “a mass appraisal standpoint rather than an individual appraisal standpoint”.  This was stated on the record during the December 13, 2022, Assembly Meeting.  The recording is available at the link below and Dahle begins speaking at 57 minutes and 30 seconds into the recording (57:30).

Haines Borough December 13, 2022 Assembly Meeting

Attorney Joe Geldhof from Juneau wrote the opinion quoted above for one of our appellants and is very familiar with the Haines Borough.  It is my understanding that the last time he was willing to take on an issue with Haines Borough it resulted in the overturning of an election. The case resulted in Daymond Hoffman being seated as an assembly member despite the fact the Haines Borough claimed they did nothing wrong in the counting of the votes. He is not an attorney that puts forth frivolous arguments.  

https://www.adn.com/voices/article/our-view-close-one/2009/12/03/

Between Chandler, Falconer, Munson, & Cacciola or Joe Geldhof, I would choose Geldhof hands down for truth and accuracy.

I am speaking out publicly on this issue because an injustice is occurring, and it needs to be corrected. Our government receives its authority from the people it serves. It is time that “we the people” regain control of our government through our elected representatives. 

Please reach out to your elected officials and request them to make a commitment to reverse these injustices by becoming an advocate in support of legislative changes.  We need to ensure there are codified protections for the people against the heavy hand of “city hall” to protect appellants rights against regressive and unjust property assessments and unlicensed contract assessors.

We can and must do better.

Haines resident Brenda Josephson has held elective office on the Haines Borough Assembly and Haines Borough School Board.  She also served her community as a Haines Borough Planning Commissioner and Haines Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.  She is licensed by the State of Alaska for real estate sales and is federally licensed tax professional authorized by the US Department of Treasury to practice as an Enrolled Agent before the Internal Revenue Service. 

Disclaimer:

The information provided in this Open Letter to Haines is what I believe to be true and accurate after months of research. It became my mission to learn how it was possible that our assessments could go so far off the rails in just a few months after the loss of our longtime staff assessor. My journey on this road to discovery has not been alone and others have noteworthy details I have not shared.    

Acknowledgement:

I want to thank the many people in Haines and throughout Alaska that are researchers, and professionals in real estate, contract assessments, appraisals, law, state government, and those who had personal experience as BOE appellants, some who pursued relief to the courts. These individuals, professionals, and business owners generously gave of their time to share knowledge and personal experience to help Haines avoid the challenges they personally witnessed and/or experienced. 

35 COMMENTS

  1. Brenda, great job, well written. Haines should show their outrage and vote all of them out. When they all vote the same way over a contentious issue they are not supporting their unrepresented constituency. BTW Skagway also saw large increases in assessments.

  2. Wow, the abuse and arrogance of bureaucratic power here is breathtakingly outrageous!
    But worst of all are the threats to property owners who dare challenge their (unfair) assessments — that kind of official threat is nothing but terrorism, and is a criminal act. Why are these officials NOT being charged with the crimes of which they are patently and publicly guilty?

    • In Democrat run communities in Alaska, it’s a day that ends in Y.

      The impressive thing about Haines is not even attempting to hide the corruption. Put it out in the front yard for everyone to enjoy.

      • Damn right Haines has got a problem… it’s been run by a bunch of radical leftist for years and now, the day has come as it always does when leftists are in power…..yes, the day has come when years of leftist spending must be paid for and years of leftist rules have left no economy to pay the bill…….

  3. The whole southeast panhandle has a problem its called being a Democrat with far left principles. You ain’t nothing but a hound dog complaining all the time. Less nagging Haines more voting differently and more running the corrupt bad leaders out of town.

  4. The same problem that Haines experienced is happening in all boroughs. That one is not the only such problem. Every borough in Alaska has raised taxes on property and in the long term commenced legal problems for owners with the need to appeal and work through the issue. It is a calculation that boroughs have decided to use from other sources they don’t want to disclose but the real estate industry doesn’t want to reveal the true beginning of the calculations and anything to do with the solution to the over taxation they will say its out of their hands. Over assessments, over priced and over appraised. It all goes hand in hand.

  5. Sounds like the good people of Haines need to be diligent on who they vote for to run their government. Inaction and apathy are not an option

  6. Seems Krietzier learned her lessons well during her time in Juneau. Lie, ignore the law, ignore the people, use threats where necessary.

    Ah, Alaska. Where laws don’t matter and the public servant rule with an iron fist.

    I hope my friends in Haines have more stones than Juneau. Sue this woman, the mayor, and all related peoples into oblivion. This crap is clearly illegal. The Mafia would be embarrassed by this.

    Apparently the Haines borough wants more money to spend (drag shows up from Juneau) and isn’t going to bother to ask for it.

    If the goal is to depopulate Haines, it’s a good start. If the goal is to ultimately turn Haines into a woke utopia run by Karens for Karens, it’s semi brilliant.

    If we had a state government worth a damn and a Governor with a spine, this would be investigated with vigor. Otherwise this attitude will continue to spread. But our Governor is useless and our state government more so.

    A note to my friends in Hoonah, Angoon, Petersburg, and Wrangell. If anyone moves from Juneau and wants to get involved in city/borough affairs-do everything short of pooping in their mailbox to keep them from doing so.

  7. It speaks volumes how broken our state is and how weak our governor/government is politicians statewide feel so free to violate laws and established rules of behavior.

    The difference between us and Oregon? Oregon got a head start on dystopia.

  8. Threats to raise the assessment value if you don’t comply is extortion plain and simple. The Boroughs claim to be MUNICIPAL CORPORATIONS on their own documents and I am sure they have a foreign Territorial side too. Even the State of Alaska is a “public corporation” pursuant to AS 45.77.020(3), and the STATE OF ALASKA is a MUNICIPAL CORPORATION created sometime in the 60s. The Clearfield Doctrine clearly states that governments that incorporate have no sovereign powers, and 22 U.S.C.A. 286e confirms it. They are to be treated like any other corporation or person, and they are required to stay within their corporate charters – the Constitutions. All corporations are property of the Roman Curia. They do not belong to us. However we are ultimately their employers. They cannot concern themselves with anything other than corporate artificial persons and the contracts between them. Penhallow v. Doane’s Administrators was an actual Supreme Court case stating this. That’s why they had to create all these legal fictions (fictionalizing the owner) and by creating numerous copyrighted property descriptions (a latch on your property), they fictionalize the land so they can do anything they want with it because it doesn’t exist in reality. They never record it as private property. They “register” it as “residential” which does not mean private. like the BIRTH CERTIFICATES are “registered” as STATE property. The definition of Real Estate used to be Royal Estate – property of the King. Senate Document #43; SENATE RESOLUTION Number 62 (page 9) April 17, 1933 clearly stated that the ultimate ownership of all property is in the State. All they can give to the prospective buyer is Color of Title. They send threatening letters and billing statements to the artificial PERSONS they created themselves in violation of Title 18 USC 1341 and 1342. It’s all just a word game to control and claim ownership.

    • Lori, exactly right, a land grab. My mother’s cousins settled land in Colorado back in the 1800’s. They grew crops and raised cattle. Unfortunately during the 1930’s ( the great depression) they and many of their neighbors were unable to pay their property taxes. What happened next was abhorrent. A wealthy investor swooped in and bought their property at auction. The former owners were allowed to remain on the property and pay rent. Many years later their Farm became part of the new Denver Airport.

  9. I’ve long seen it as just another civic duty to challenge my property tax assessment each and every year. Looking at the assessment on properties around mine I can see some are more than willing to accept outlandish assessments.

  10. Property taxes should be illegal. No one should ever have their properties remortgaged every year by the government in the form of taxes and have the threat of having their home taken if not paid.
    You never do truly own your properties because of this. There are other ways the government can receive tax money, and less tax money at that by deflating the over bloated useless governments.

  11. Sounds like the corrupt appraiser wants to bankrupt everyone so that later someone else can buy it up cheap!!! Whoa horsey stop.

    Could it be Blackrock? That’s what they are doing world wide.

  12. Well the tax payers need to get together and send these power hungry political wannabes right out of town. Take over the departments and elect people who are just a normal citizen not these career political lunatics.

  13. “The law locks up the man or woman Who steals the Goose off the Common But leaves the greater Villain loose Who steals the common from under the Goose”…

    This poem above describes how in the 18th Century the English Gentry drove the working class people from the land and in my opinion, pressed them into service in industrialized sweat shops.
    I submit that property taxes today are akin to that event 200 years ago. Property taxes followed by another financial collapse and inflation will enable the Greater Villians amongst us to confiscate private property and reduce us to a Nation of Share Croppers.

  14. You’ll own nothing and like it. This is a land grab and there’s little that can stop it. The “vote them out of office” is not a choice. These people seem to slither into office in every city and borough. Juneau is the same and the commercial real estate will 100% government owned very soon, residential to follow.

  15. Brenda Josephson’s letter above is indeed well-written and illuminates a vital topic. However, it is too long. Can anyone commenting on here honestly say they read every word? I cant.

    Let’s distill it. Our elected representatives no longer think of themselves as servants but rather overlords (they say leaders). The vast legions of unelected, unaccountable, government bureaucrats are now enforcers of the ideology of central government control of everything. Their primary mission incentive is to seize as much as possible from taxpayers in order to secure their platinum-plated compensation, benefit, and retirement packages. Frankly, government employees should give up their right to vote while employed; they have an inherent conflict of interest to vote for more power over others. It took a century to build out-of-control government at evert level. We will not correct it with civility in short order. It will take time.

    • Wayne, I read the entire article, sometimes a story must be told , the whole story, not some condensation of the story. The devil often is in the details.

    • Wayne: I read the entire article. Good column, full of facts and decent arguments. We shall see if the new Haines Borough Assembly acts to respond to the situation in an adult manner, starting with acknowledgmetn that the assessment methodology wasn’t properly adopted, worked a serious hardshiip on some residents, used an odd methodology. Oh, and an apology.

  16. Anchorage assessors did exactly the same actions as Haines under “Marky Mark Begich” when he was mayor to come up with the excess cost of funding all the lucrative union contracts he extended shortly before his term was up.
    I did get a laugh out of the chaos it caused when a fireman who was a recipient of the massive wage increases lost his “home on the hillside with a view” when he could no longer afford the tax bill.(He is still oblivious to what caused his failure in the first place).
    At least Begich gets a lucrative contract with the current Assembly to provide us with expensive housing for the “freegrazimg homeless”.

    • And don’t forget how that same mayor tainted the appeal process at the same time. Sounds like he shared his playbook with Haines. Thank God that the appeal process in Anchorage has been returned to normal. But not enough people have time to use it and hope they will be able to sell at the increased assessment. They won’t.

  17. When a group or individual or any entity is forcing you and your family from your home through pricing you out of your home, threatening you and illegally stopping you from any recourse then ALL BETS ARE OFF. Do WHATEVER you need to do, the GOOD people of Haines because the sub humans who are doing this to you WILL NEVER STOP because they ENJOY your suffering.

  18. Thank you for standing up for the people of Haines and putting so much time and passion into this. The issue affects all of us and is a true problem.

  19. I don’t know if they still teach in school that the necessities of life are food, clothing and shelter or not but taxing the necessities of life can be viewed as an assault on the quality off all our lives. Lets start with removing the tax on food and go from there.

  20. Probably about the time of the British Raj in India when they were taxing the people to death and many died of starvation. If they can charge property tax and if you don’t pay it you are required to redeem it over and over, and if you don’t do that, they think they have the right to auction it off, then obviously you never really owned the property in the first place. All they gave you was color of title.

  21. When Roosevelt took the people’s gold (money of substance) the people had no lawful way to pay debts. In order to pay for something there has to be an exchange of value for value. Gold had value. Our labors have value. The Deal was that because the people were now without substance, Congress accepted the obligation to pay all debts as clearly stated in their remedy, Public Law 73-10 and in the Statutes-at-Large, Chapter 28, 28 Stat 112. Of course they never kept their promise. We really have never owed public debt since 1941. And now they operate under corporation Public Policy, not Public Law, and every time they go bankrupt the old laws do not apply and they leave us with their bankruptcy debts. Welcome to the Reservation.

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