County mulls dropping assessments on small buildings

Jason Ferguson

Unimproved outbuildings and sheds under 350 feet may be exempt from property tax under a proposed resolution being considered by the Custer County Commission.
The draft resolution was brought forward at the Aug. 23 meeting of the Custer County Commission by human resources director Todd Fish, and states that all structures, buildings and facilities of 350 square feet or less meeting the following criteria would not be considered real property:
• Cannot be attached on a permanent fixed foundation
• Is not attached to a real property structure and with the intended purpose of being permanent adding value to the overall structure
• Does not contain improvements intended for living space with a heating system, air conditioning, ventilation, sanitation, lighting or plumbing.
The structure may, however, have lighting, ventilation and electricity from whatever source. Whether or not a structure of 350 square feet or less will require a building permit moving forward was also a part of the discussion.
The genesis of the proposed resolution seems to be a fairness issue regarding shipping containers, as since they can be moved, they are not assessed for taxation, whereas permanent small buildings are assessed.
County director of equalization Leah Vissia presented a complete list of all of the values of 350 square feet or under in the county, but added the caveat she did not know whether all of them had foundations, were improved, were home additions, etc. That meant it was unclear how many of the properties on the list would actually qualify to come off the list for taxation should the resolution be passed.
Vissia warned, however, that if even if the fourth of the value was taken out, the mil levy would increase, shifting the tax burden from someone who has such buildings to those who do not. Vissia said she didn’t have a problem with the 350 square-feet, but said if it has utilities, it should be assessed.
“Every one of those campgrounds that has those cabins will all be taken off under 350-square feet,” she said.
Commissioner Hartman said he felt that would not be the case, because they have living quarters in them, but Vissia said semantics could get involved as to what is classified as living quarters.
She said someone could claim they were just storing a bed in a cabin, or other such ways to try to get out of having the building taxed.
“If you have a bed in a shed are you going to call that living quarters? You guys tell me how I’m supposed to do that,” she said. “You’re putting our office in a position to make that determination.”
County planning director Terri Kester said if there were building permits required for the structures, the person filling out the permit request would have to check boxes indicating whether or not there was a foundation or have living quarters. The building would still require inspection, however.
“Someone checking a box whether or not it’s there is not going to mean anything,” commissioner Mike Busskohl said. “The blinds are closed, we come out and look at a building we’re not going to tax ... we spend how much time going out and looking?”
Vissia also asked if the resolution should pass when the properties no longer to be assessed would come off the tax roles. She added nobody had asked her office about the proposed resolution, saying she had just received a copy of it last week.
Busskohl said he had visited with Vissia when the discussion about the possible resolution had begun.
Kester said not requiring building permits for such structures would cost the planning office, saying over the last three years such structures brought in $8,000 in building permit fees. She said the building permit cost for such buildings is minimal, saying the most a resident would pay for a 350 square-foot structure is $117.50, as the cost is 5¢ per square foot and $100 for the permit. Kester said building permits are crucial to the bottom line of the planning office.
Busskohl said he was “sorry to say” he believed the commission needed to study the issue further, and made a motion to table the issue to the next meeting.
Hartman said he was tired of talking about the issue, saying commission legal counsel has looked at the resolution, feedback was taken from multiple areas and Fish had spent a lot of time working on the resolution.
“Maybe the plan changed but this is exactly what we started out (and) everybody wanted to do,” he said. “I feel like we are just wasting time.”
The issue will be raised at the next meeting, as the motion to table passed with only Hartman casting a vote against the table.

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