Jefferson tax assessor sees uptick in real estate market
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Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News
Jack Westerman, Jefferson County tax assessor, addresses a Chamber of Commerce audience Monday in Port Townsend.

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — The local real estate market is improving, and that indicates an uptick in the economy, the Jefferson County tax assessor told a business audience.

“Over the last year and a half, sales and transactions have increased 5 percent to 10 percent,” said Jack Westerman III at Monday's regular meeting of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce.

“The economy is on the rebound, and things are getting better.

“Although,” he added, “there are still a few foreclosures out there.”

Westerman addressed about 50 people at the meeting, focusing on the mandated change to annual property revaluation from a current system in which values were reassessed every four years.

Westerman said the annual revaluation process will result in less drastic increases and decreases in property value, which often take homeowners by surprise.

The yearly revaluation also better reflects the market, as revaluing properties every four years does not provide accurate housing statistics.

Westerman said decreases in value can lead to lower property taxes but not at the same rate.

If a property value is decreased by 15 percent, the decrease in property taxes would be at about half that rate. Assessment data also do not reflect sale prices.

Westerman said that from June 30, 2010, to July 1, 2012, homes in the county were sold at 117 percent of their assessed value.



The yearly revaluation process has required a change in software vendors, which caused some rough spots, he said.

“The system we had for 25 years was so slick, you only needed to enter data once,” he said. “And we went from having a user fee of $5,000 a year to $35,000 a year.”

Westerman thinks the kinks will be ironed out eventually.

“I know I need to do this and be creative and positive for my staff, even though it can take three times longer to enter something, or you can't get something on the website the way you want it,” he said.

“But in five years, when everything works out and the world is perfect and stuff, we'll look back and say this system is way better than we had before.”

Westerman, who has served as assessor since 1979 and previously announced that he was in his last term, will not be on the job in five years.

He indicated Monday that he might not finish his term.

Westerman after his talk said he “might have an announcement” in the fall about his retirement but has not made up his mind one way or the other,

Any elected official who leaves midterm is replaced through a party appointment until the time of the next election, which is 2014.

Westerman said he would make such a decision late enough so it would not require an additional election that would cost the taxpayers.

Westerman said most homeowners won't see a severe change in the next valuation, aside from some condominiums whose value has been slashed 50 percent.

And while most houses have lost some value, one neighborhood — the Treehouse planned community near Fort Worden State Park — has stayed consistent.

“It's a slick little setup. They have really nice houses, but they are on small lots with a common area,” Westerman said.

“I thought the allure would wear off in time, but it has really held its value.

“There are so many houses that are selling for the same they did in '09.”



Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or cbermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: July 08. 2013 6:15PM
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