Auditor says state’s procedures are ‘insufficient’ to prevent property tax disparities in Wasatch

Echoing complaints from people who pay property taxes in Wasatch Back, the State Auditor’s Office said in a letter Wednesday that some property owners have paid too much in recent years.

According to state auditor John Dougall, the Utah State Tax Commission did not do enough in 2021 and 2022 to prevent inequities between Wasatch County residents’ tax bills. The letter focused on inequities in Wasatch County, but said some of the same shortcomings also affected Summit County taxpayers.

The letter also says the state commission failed to take corrective action or notify the state auditor of the inequities as required by state code.

In response to the letter, Utah State Tax Commission Executive Director Scott Smith said the past two years have exposed weaknesses in the state’s oversight system. He attributed it to historic increases in market values.

The auditor’s responsibilities do not include enforcing consequences at the state tax commission, but the letter recommends several next steps. Those are things the auditor said the state tax commission should have already done, like increasing staffing and oversight of county assessors.

Utah State Tax Commission spokesman Jason Gardner said his office has worked with the auditor during the review. He said the commission is identifying major problem areas and developing strategies to address them with the county.

“Getting it fully equitable guaranteed this year is a tall order,” Gardner said. “This is a situation that took several years to get into, so it may take a couple of years to get out, but I mean, as far as putting effort into it, if we can do it this year, we’re certainly going to push ourselves. I just don’t know if I can make promises in that regard.”

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When Wasatch County Assessor Todd Griffin took over in 2021, he said the county was already behind in assessments. Since then, he said, a lack of personnel and resources have prevented further progress.

The letter from the auditor’s office says that in 2021 and 2022, thousands of parcels in Wasatch County were not updated to reflect rapidly rising values.

In 2022, Griffin said he was taking an aggressive approach to catch up to ensure more homes were assessed at current levels.

Still, when residents received tax bills in October, some said they were surprised because they owed so much more than in years past, and sometimes much more than their neighbors. The auditor’s letter says that in many cases, under state code, that should not have happened.

The letter quotes the Utah Constitution. It says that if a county assessor doesn’t make sure taxpayers’ bills are proportional to market rates, “[the state tax commission] will assist the county assessor in meeting the requirements.”

It also says that the procedures the state commission has used to do so were ineffective.

Gardner said the Utah Legislature is considering a bill that could affect property assessments and taxes in its next session. It could require counties to provide detailed parcel data for all properties within their jurisdictions to the tax commission.

The auditor’s letter is available here.

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