News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

Property tax relief for fire survivors reintroduced

A state bill providing property tax relief for survivors of the 2020 wildfires has been reintroduced during the current legislative session after a similar bill failed in 2023.

SB 1545, introduced Feb. 5 by Sen. Fred Girod (R-Stayton), would allow homeowners who rebuilt after the fires to pay property taxes based on pre-fire assessed values.

The bill had its first hearing Feb. 8 before the Senate Committee On Finance and Revenue. It must be passed by both chambers by the close of the session March 10 to become law.

Girod similarly introduced SB 1012 in 2023, which received unanimous approval in the Senate. Once in the House it died in committee, with representatives saying they needed more time to assess possible conflicts with existing tax laws.

The new bill attempts to address these concerns by including greater detail about which existing laws would
or would not be impacted. It also included revisions to affected laws cross-referencing the proposed policy.

The goal of the bill remained the same: empower counties to establish a “specially assessed value” for qualifying properties, equal to values assessed in the 2020-2021 fiscal year.

At issue is a state law capping annual increases in assessed values at no more than 3%. This cap does not apply to new construction, even for homes rebuilt after a disaster. Some fire survivors have seen dramatic increases in assessed values without the 3% limit.

While the 2023 bill would have frozen assessed values at pre-fire levels, SB 1545 allows counties to add the 3% yearly increase after the specially assessed value is approved.

SB 1012 was also scheduled to sunset in 2027, while SB 1545 allows the specially assessed value to apply as long as the property serves as the applicant’s primary residence. If the applicant moves away, rents out the home or transfers ownership, counties could then apply normal policies for assessed value.

Counties would retain authority to amend or repeal any policies they pass allowing specially assessed values. If they do so then any special assessed values previously granted would continue under the terms in effect at the time they were approved.

As in the 2023 bill, qualifying homes must have been destroyed between Sept. 1 and 30, 2020, by a fire that was the subject of a state-declared emergency, such as the Santiam Fire. The home must also have served as the applicant’s primary residence before and after the fire, and the square footage of the rebuilt structure cannot exceed that of the destroyed structure.

New in SB 1545 was a provision allowing counties to charge a fee based on the actual cost of recording the specially assessed value with the county clerk.

If SB 1545 is passed, it would be retroactive to all tax years after July 1, 2021. Approved applicants could file a claim with the Oregon Department of Revenue to apply the specially assessed value to these prior years, with a filing deadline of Dec. 31, 2025.

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