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County assessor to encourage businesses to report personal property

personal property

Lane County took in an extra half-million dollars in personal property taxes during the past two years by encouraging businesses to report personal property such as equipment and computers for taxation, county officials said.

But county officials think some local companies still aren’t reporting all of the taxable personal property they own.

To help business owners understand personal property taxation and encourage them to pay up, county Assessor Mike Cowles will hold a free tax workshop this week.

“We’re doing our best to make sure that all businesses comply with personal property tax laws,” Cowles said.

The workshop is scheduled to take place 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. Thursday in Harris Hall, 125 E. Eighth Ave. in Eugene. Anyone interested in attending is asked to RSVP to assessor@co.lane.or.us or 541-682-6798.

“The taxation system really relies on everyone reporting,” Cowles said. “It is extremely important, because they’re paying their business’ fair share.”

Personal property includes all equipment and office supplies a business uses, such as computers, phones, desks, cabinets, TVs and artwork, Cowles said. Every business is responsible for valuing its personal property and reporting it to the county for taxation. The county reviews the reported values to ensure they’re reasonable, Cowles said.

If a business owner has less than $16,500 (£13,544.57) in personal property, the taxes are assessed but cancelled, the assessor said. Still, each business is required to file a personal property taxation report with the county.

The vast majority of taxed property in Lane County is real estate. Both homeowners and business owners are taxed. The county assesses each piece of real estate, based either on a visit or data trends, and sends owners a tax bill each November. But property taxes on business equipment are paid only by companies.

Taxes paid in the current tax year on personal property is about $12 million (£9.85 million), including late filing penalties, he said. By contrast, the county took in $466 million (£382.31 million) in real estate property taxes for the year. Personal property taxes amount to less than 5 per cent of the county’s property tax revenue.

Lane County has 83 different taxing districts, including local governments, public schools and libraries.

Lane and neighbouring counties had suspected not all businesses were paying personal property taxes. So, in 2014 and with the help of a state grant, Cowles, in collaboration with assessors in neighbouring counties, started a project to ensure that businesses were reporting their computers and furnishings for taxation. He created a list of all businesses in Lane County and compared it to a list of businesses that had been filing personal property taxes. He then sent letters to every business that had not been reporting its personal property. The companies that were not reporting were either knowingly skirting the law or unaware of it, Cowles said.

The assessor also launched a public information campaign. He sent mailings to inform businesses about how to file taxes on personal property. He also spoke to businesses owners, financial officers and groups of certified public accountants and tax attorneys who might help businesses file taxes.

“Then there were more personal property filings than they had ever seen in the past,” said Portland State University professor Jim Johnson, who is evaluating the project. Johnson, who works in the school’s National Policy Consensus Center, previously worked as Eugene’s city manager and as a county administrator for Lane County.

Lane County took in $511,000 (£419,368.08) more in personal property taxes than it would have had the project not occurred, Johnson said.

“That’s not millions, but it helps,” he said.

Thursday’s workshop will cover topics such as how to value personal property, how property depreciates, penalties for late following and exemptions, Cowles said.

Every business must file its personal property tax return by March 15, according to state law.

Paul

The author Paul