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Confusion persists over Clark County property tax hikes

Updated August 14, 2022 - 12:39 pm

When Marcus Gafter learned Southern Nevada homeowners might face a higher-than-expected property tax hike, he looked up his records and saw he was one of them.

Gafter, who owns a condo in Las Vegas, sent a form to the county around early June to correct it, he recalled. As of this past week, records still showed he faced the bigger increase.

Gafter said he feels “extremely frustrated and a little anxious” about it.

“Anything tax-related, people get nervous … and I’m one of those people,” he said.

Following a swirl of chatter about property tax increases, Clark County’s assessor tried to clear up “misinformation” on the topic in late June. Confusion and frustration over the complex issue, however, have not gone away.

Clark County officials “continue to see residents who do not understand why their mailed tax bills are incorrect,” county spokesman Erik Pappa said on Aug. 1. He asked media outlets to let their readers, viewers and listeners know that if someone recently filled out the form to fix their tax increase, the assessor “has received a large volume of corrections which may take some time to process.”

This reiterated a county news release last month saying if someone received a tax bill with the wrong increase but had sent a correction, the treasurer’s office would send a revised bill once the fix was processed.

If they do not get a revised bill “by October,” the release added, they should contact the assessor’s office.

The county also posted a video on YouTube, dated July 18, to address the issue. The 3-minute, 49-second clip is packed with information, including about property tax bills, where to find the rate of increase on your mortgage statement, how the cap is determined and how to correct the rate.

“Here’s what you need to know, quickly and simple,” the narrator says before launching into the details.

Tax talk

Vic Cochran bought his house in Summerlin in 2009 and transferred ownership to a trust in 2017, property records indicate. The shift may have required him to notify the county the home was still his primary residence to ensure a lower tax increase, but Cochran told the Review-Journal he doesn’t recall filling out any forms for that.

“If they’d ask that, I definitely would remember that,” Cochran said.

When he learned a month or so ago that people might be facing higher-than-expected tax hikes, he found out he was one of them. He also wasn’t able to figure out why.

A mix of news reports, email blasts and social media posts about tax hikes and filing deadlines prompted County Assessor Briana Johnson to hold a news conference June 29, saying she wanted to “clear up some of the misinformation that may have been put out there.”

Homeowners have always had the ability to change their “tax cap,” or the percentage a property tax bill is raised, she said, adding they have up to a year to fix it for the fiscal year starting July 1.

In Nevada, the maximum tax hike for someone’s primary residence is 3 percent, and the maximum increase for other properties, including land and commercial buildings, is 8 percent.

The state is levying the maximum increase in both categories this year.

Johnson said the property tax cap “will be 8 percent” this fiscal year “if you have not informed the assessor’s office that the home that you are in is your primary residence.” But she noted that homeowners have the next 12 months to fix it for the current fiscal cycle.

Asked why the tax hike automatically defaults to the higher rate, and not the lower one, in those instances, Johnson told the Review-Journal on Wednesday through the county’s media office that officials don’t know the intended use of a property after its ownership changes.

To determine if it is the new owner’s primary residence, the owner is required under state law to submit a claim, she said.

“This means the assessor is not allowed to default to the lower rate,” the statement concluded.

Property paperwork

Clark County sends postcards to homebuyers asking whether the property is their primary residence or otherwise — a query that might be dismissed as junk mail.

Brandon Roberts, president of trade association Las Vegas Realtors, told the Review-Journal in late June that he was hearing “a lot” about the issue at the time and that people were getting caught off guard.

Roberts also said that the postcard notifications “kind of look like junk mail” and that he knew people who threw them out, including one of his agents, who later requested another one.

“If he didn’t see posts on social media, he would have missed it,” Roberts said.

Gafter, the condo owner, said he doesn’t recall getting the postcard after he and his wife acquired the home near Buffalo Drive and Summerlin Parkway last year.

“It was an obnoxious amount of mail we received after we moved in,” he said.

Homeowners have now flooded the county with paperwork to change their tax hikes.

The assessor’s office “received more than 150,000 forms electronically and in-person in the days preceding the June 30 deadline to correct the previous year’s tax cap and to change it going forward,” Pappa told the Review-Journal on Aug. 4.

The office is working “to validate and verify those forms as some may be duplicates and others may not qualify” for the lower increase, he said, adding the county treasurer will mail corrected tax bills by October.

Cochran, who lives near Town Center Drive and the 215 Beltway, said local officials should have been more proactive to explain the situation. As he sees it, the county should have sent a letter with a correction form to homeowners in case they needed it.

Cochran said he may have overpaid on his property taxes for years but won’t worry about it, adding it’s hopefully behind him. Still, he can only guess how it happened.

“Maybe I never filled out the card,” he said. “I don’t know.”

Contact Eli Segall at esegall@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0342. Follow @eli_segall on Twitter.

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