2020-21-09_OR_4562_EchoMtnFire_5790.jpg

A lone mailbox sits on the ground, it's post having been destroyed by the Echo Mountain Complex fire. - Jeff Markham / FEMA

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North Lincoln County residents are quickly learning about the tax consequences of losing a home to a natural disaster.

Lincoln County assessors have been surveying the damage done by the Echo Mountain Complex fire and have been reaching out to owners of affected properties about how they can have their tax assessment adjusted. However, issues involving higher tax rates on a rebuild and a school Construction Excise Tax have raised several questions for property owners.

The Lincoln County Board of Commissioners discussed some of these issues Oct. 26 during their regular scheduled meeting. Department of Planning & Development Director Onno Husing and Lincoln County Council Wayne Belmont have been looking into potential fee waivers for building and septic permits for those looking to rebuild. Both Husing and Belmont recommended the Commissioners sign off on a similar waiver that just passed in Marion County, which waives those fees for primary or original residents.

“Some people are already planning to sell their damaged property and move,” Husing said of why the fee waiver should only be applicable to primary, original owners.

Husing also noted that the wavier may cost the the County in terms of generating revenue, but Commission Chair Kaety Jacobson feels confident they can absorb a potential loss. Commissioner Claire Hall said she felt it was instinctively the right thing to do to waive these fees and is pleased to see progress being made.

“Every dollar helps,” Hall said. “I hope it will send a powerful message to the citizens that we do care and we want to do everything within our power to help rebuild and rebuild as quickly as possible.”

Husing recommended making the waiver retroactive to Sept. 8 for the next five years. County staff plans to write up a proposal for the Commissioners to agree on and Jacobson hopes to refund those who have already began the process. Commissioners will also be looking at potentially added a case-by-case basis provision for the waiver that may extend to renters who intend to buy the property to rebuild.

Rep. David Gomberg has been in contact with the Commissioners and is looking into what he can do at the state level regarding the tax roadblocks.

“I’m working now on proposed legislation to correct these issues for a possible special session in November or in the 2021 session,” Gomberg said this week. “I want changes to help us re-build and recover as soon as possible. And I want to be ready should a larger and more consequential natural disaster arrive on the coast.”

Among those issues Gomberg will be working on is the Construction Excise Tax, a one-time surcharge on new construction that goes directly to the local school district. Hall said they took a long look at this state law last week and felt that it read as an optional tax for the school district to collect. However, after further discussion, they determined that if the school district had already been collecting the tax, they cannot create specific waivers.

“It’s out of our hands at this point,” Hall said. “We are legally obligated to continue collecting the fee.”

Hall said hopefully a resolution is in the works at the state level as their goal is to continue facilitating rebuilding and not putting up roadblocks.

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