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Millions at stake following judge's tax valuation ruling

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Washoe County could be forced to refund millions of dollars in excessive taxes to thousands of residential property owners at Lake Tahoe after a judge ruled the valuations that were used more than a decade ago were arbitrary and violated the state constitution.

The Reno Gazette-Journal reports the recent ruling affects valuations in Incline Village and Crystal Bay between mid-2003 and mid-2006.


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Washoe County District Court Judge Kathleen Drakulich ordered the state and county on Oct. 21 to adjust the tax rolls for the three fiscal years.


Todd Lowe, president of the Village League to Save Incline Assets, isn't sure how big the tax refunds could grow but he says there are 8,000 to 9,000 residential properties in the towns on Lake Tahoe's north shore.

"It's a significant amount of money," Lowe told the newspaper.


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The county hasn't decided yet whether to appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court.


"Washoe County, along with the State of Nevada, and other local government agencies will be coordinating with our regional partners to measure and understand each entity's responsibility for any potential refund," county spokeswoman Amy Ventetuolo said. "As far as the potential amount, it is too early to understand the estimated amount."


The Village League claimed that the assessment used standards not applied to other county or state properties, including lake view assessments that changed wildly from one property to the next.

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"They used what was called drive-by assessments," Lowe said. "You had neighbors that essentially had the same residential lots with vastly different assessment levels and vastly different taxes."


Residents started filing appeals against the assessments in 2013, claiming they were unconstitutional and arbitrary. The state boards for the state and county, however, rejected the appeals. Years of legal wrangling followed, with the state Supreme Court remanding the case for the second time to the lower court after determining that the State Board of Equalization failed to conduct public hearings on the issue.


In the 57-page decision last week, the judge ordered the county treasurer to calculate the excess taxes paid by the property owners and provide a payment schedule to the court within 90 days.


"Now the county can stop fighting us, which is extremely expensive," Lowe said. "The taxpayers paid for this twice — the taxpayers are also paying for all this litigation expense so it's time to stop doing it."