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Unalaska council board rejects Whittern appeal

May 19th | Jim Paulin, The Bristol Bay Times-Dutch Harbor Fisherman Print this article   Email this article  

In Unalaska's ongoing battle over property values between City Appraiser Mike Renfro and land owner Coe Whittern, the score is now one to one after Renfro won the latest round last week. Whittern won the first round last year, although the final outcome is now in the hands of the Alaska Superior Court, where Renfro is suing the city.

Last week, the city council, in its role as the board of equalization, rejected Whittern's appeal of his vacant 11-acre future residential subdivision East Broadway lot's valuation. Following a closed-door executive session, the board upheld the $750,000 value established by Renfro's firm, the Appraisal Company of Alaska.

But in a case involving the same property last year, the board sided with Whittern and overruled Renfro's $478,900 assessment, and instead said the land was only worth $59,400. That's the case that's now in state Superior Court in Unalaska, assigned to Judge Erin Marston.

"The BOE's process for reviewing and determining the Whittern's property is flawed because the Whitterns relied on comparable property values and sales that are not truly comparable to the Whittern's property and therefore do not support the value affixed to the Whittern's property," Renfro said in a public notice in this newspaper on Jan. 19, announcing his administrative appeal against the city.

At last week's meeting, Whittern urged board members to vote their conscience as he said they did last year when they supported his position. He implored them not to vote the other way to avoid another lawsuit in the case of tax lot number 06-04-280 in the Parkside Subdivision, across the street from Whittern's business, Unalaska Building Supply, which is closing next month.

Renfro said last year's vote was "unfair, unequal and ignores basic tax appraisal principles."

But ultimately the board voted 4-1 to deny the appeal, agreeing with Renfro that the steep bedrock lots cited by Whittern as having similar value were not comparable, based on "terrainabity," since they were located on steep hillside property. Voting against Whittern were board members David Gregory, Bong Tungul, John Waldron, and Rachelle Hatfield. The one dissenting vote was cast by Roger Rowland. Yudelka Leclere was allowed to abstain from voting by Mayor Frank Kelty, after she said she goes to the same church as Whittern, and seeks his guidance at times.

The subdivided, but vacant, 11-acre parcel on flat ground on the valley floor was "grossly undervalued," Renfro said last week.

According to ACA's land appraisal, the property could be subdivided into 30 residential lots selling for $70,000 each without water and sewer connections, for a total of $2.1 million. And even if $1 million was subtracted for costs, including paying property taxes over the 10-year period it could take to sell all the lots, the property would still be worth $1.1 to 1.25 million in market value. Water and sewer could boost each lot's cost by $20,000, the appraiser said.

After meeting as the board of equalization, the city council's regular meeting resumed.

City Manager David Martinson said that because of the Iliuliuk Family and Health Services' financial difficulties, the city will no longer receive discounted rates on certain services. While sexual assault examinations are unchanged at $200 for suspects and $250 for victims, the high-level physical examinations for public safety volunteers have since skyrocketed, from $1,280 to $3,153, and from $585 to $2,625.

The clinic abruptly canceled the lower rates spelled out in the former memorandum of understanding, he said.

"It would have been nice to have been forewarned," Martinson said, complaining of an "email on Friday for an effective date on Monday." The new rates took effect May 1.

The city now has no choice but to pay the higher rates, he said. But while he said the same services may not be less expensive elsewhere, Martinson plans to see if the city can get lower rates from a different provider.

In other increases, employee hepatitis vaccines jumped from $102 to $702, while tuberculosis testing went up from $10 to $93, and flu vaccinations went from $15 to $35.


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