It’s all about the view

The Washoe county tax assessor’s race started out competitive

The Washoe county assessor’s office sees a steady stream of property owners concerned about their tax bills.

The Washoe county assessor’s office sees a steady stream of property owners concerned about their tax bills.

Photo By David Robert

Ernie McNeill, a retired senior appraiser, shows off the view from the second story of his home on University Ridge, north of Reno. Mountains, valley, downtown Reno. From where he stands in his living room, he can see his seat at UNR’s Mackay Stadium.

“Until those houses went in,” he motions across the street to the east, “I could see Sparks.”

The house is on the market. Its view may attract buyers.

“View has value,” McNeill says. “And this is a perfect example.” In newer Reno subdivisions, a view might add $30,000 to $65,000 or more to a lot premium. McNeill calculates the views from some homes in his neighborhood can be valued at $80,000. At Lake Tahoe, a view can add hundreds of thousands of dollars to a property’s market value.

Though he’s dropped out of the race, McNeill’s name will be on the ballot for Washoe County assessor. McNeill, a Democrat, now endorses his Republican competitor, Josh Wilson, 33, a senior appraiser with seven years of experience and a bachelor’s degree from UNR in business administration.

“I ran because I wanted to make sure there was one viable candidate on the ballot,” McNeill says. “There is one in Josh. He’s a good guy. We’ve all struggled with wanting to do more. Josh is one of those people who pushed to see things got done.”

Running against Wilson are Bret Ogilvie, an Independent American Party member who didn’t return phone calls, and Tom Koziol, 61, a Libertarian who works as a commercial inspector for banks and insurance companies. Koziol decided to run for office after sitting on the Board of Equalization, a citizen board that hears complaints from homeowners about their home’s value and property tax bill.

“When I saw what [appraisers were doing in] Incline Village and Crystal Bay, I said, ‘Holy smoke,'” Koziol says. Also on the board was Gary Schmidt, community activist and owner of the Reindeer Lodge. “We shook our heads and rolled the taxes back to the fiscal year 2002/2003,” Koziol says.

Especially outrageous, Koziol says, was how appraisers calculated the value of view at Lake Tahoe.

“You’re getting taxed on that in Incline Village and Crystal Bay, not in Reno,” he says. “Fair is out the window.”

The board’s tax roll-back may not have been fair for the rest of Washoe County voters, McNeill argues. Tahoe homeowners are taxed at nearly the same ratio of market value to taxable value as are Reno homeowners. Lake homeowners pay more because their property is worth more, he says. Reno’s median house price is about $300,000. In Incline Village, it’s $1 million.

Nevada law requires appraisers to adjust for the physical properties of the land, Wilson says. The father of two owns a modest home in Spanish Springs. As a taxpayer, he says it’s critical to keep the process fair.

The assessor’s office is converting to a new view evaluation form created by the Nevada Department of Taxation that measures the degree of panoramic view (30 degrees, 60 degrees) at the lake.

Wilson has met with Incline Village homeowners to listen to their concerns.

“I will treat people fairly,” he says. “I’m a taxpayer first and an assessor second.”

Koziol says he favors changing Nevada law to put an end to including view in taxable value of a property.

“They need money, money, money and are coming up with anything to grab the money,” Koziol says. “The solution is to get rid of [view as a tax consideration]. I say hell no.”

McNeill likens Koziol to a guy who worked in the complaint department of Sears.

“He hears everything that’s wrong with the company and thinks he knows how to run Sears,” McNeill says.