Wrangell, viewed from Inner Harbor.
(Sage Smiley / KSTK)

Within the next couple of weeks, property assessments for houses and businesses in Wrangell will land in local Post Office boxes – and for the first time in decades for some of those properties, the assessed value could be quite different. 

Listen to the radio version of this story here.

Last year, Wrangell invested in re-assessing every property in town. The borough wanted to create a level playing field for all properties – some in town hadn’t been assessed in decades. 

During a presentation at the end of February, assessor Martins Onskulis told the Wrangell Assembly that the borough should expect quite a few appeals to property assessments this year.

“Since we had a larger increase in property values – we had similar last year in Valdez – we are definitely expecting to have a number of appeals,” Onskulis said.

The vast majority of Wrangell properties – 597 – had their assessed property value increase by $18,000 or less. 

But some of the valuation changes could be more dramatic. One property in Wrangell – the outlier – increased more than half a million dollars ($500,000). 

“If the market has changed as much as it did in the past 2 years, there’s no state statute that limits how much property values can increase in one year,” Onskulis said. “There are a couple states that do have limitations on how much you can increase. Alaska does not have that.”

Assessed property value isn’t an automatic increase to property taxes. Before levying taxes this year, Wrangell’s Assembly will reconsider the mill rate, or the amount of property tax collected per assessed value of the property. The mill rate may not change, but it could be dropped to balance the increase in assessed value – that’s been discussed throughout the last year by borough administration and assembly members

The current rate is 12.75 mills inside what’s called the borough’s “service area.” That’s more developed areas of the island on the road system, for the most part. Properties outside the “service area” but within the tax zone – like Meyers Chuck, Union Bay, some places out Spur Road, Olive Cove or Thom’s Place – pay 4 mills of property tax.

At the current mill rate, an owner of an in-town property assessed at $250,000 would pay $3,187.50 in taxes inside the service area, or $1,000 outside the service area. The vast majority of Wrangell’s property tax revenue comes from inside the service area.

Eighty percent of the revenue from Wrangell property taxes goes to the borough’s General Fund and 20% to a special fund for Wrangell’s schools.

Onskulis explained that assessing is a science and an art. Assessors take into account property type, location, how old it is, and any improvements, along with its size. They also look at the value of other similar properties in the area. 

The average sale price of a Wrangell home rocketed past the national average last year, jumping to almost $415,000. That’s a 50% increase. But Onskulis explained that’s not necessarily an accurate picture of Wrangell’s housing market, since in 2021 and 2022 there were only 48 homes sold. 

Onskulis also explained that property assessment isn’t an appraisal. As assessors, he and his colleagues try to get their assessments between 90% and 110% of the appraised value of a house. 

“Assessment value is more – it’s a mass appraisal,” Onskulis said, “So instead of doing one property [and] spending a couple days on one property, we do the whole city at the same time. And our goal is to assign estimated value for each property, making sure it’s equal across the city, that they’re similar values, that similar properties are being assessed similarly.”

Property assessments are set to be mailed out to Wrangell property owners by March 20, and they’ll have just under a month (until April 18) to appeal their property valuation

Onskulis says that the burden of proof for an appeal is on a property owner to show that the assessment is either excessive, unequal, improper or undervalued. That may require property owners to request information from the borough about similar properties in town, to show a comparison to the Board of Equalization. That board has the final say on property assessments. They’ll meet the evening of May 6 at City Hall to consider any appeals. 

Get in touch with KSTK at news@kstk.org or (907) 874-2345.