Columbia County Courthouse

230 Strand Street, St. Helens, OR 97051 • Phone: (503) 397-7210 • Toll Free: (888) 397-7210

Columbia County

Residential Appraisal

The County is responsible for appraising all urban and rural residential properties.  A mass appraisal method is used to appraise all residential properties following the rules and procedures in the Department of Revenue's publication, Appraisal Methods Manual.  In addition, we use cost factor books published by the Department of Revenue to determine the base cost of structures; Cost Factors for Residential Buildings, Cost Factors for Manufactured Structures and Cost Factors for Farm Buildings.

After passage of Measure 50 in 1997 which significantly changed Oregon Property Tax Laws, it was believed that real market value was not as important as it was previous to 1997 since most properties would be limited to a 3% growth in their newly established maximum assessed value.  The real market value would continue to be market trended based on actual increase or decrease in the real estate market.  The tax assessed value is the lesser of the maximum assessed value or the real market value.  The mandate to reappraise all property every six years had been removed and the staffing levels in many of the county assessor's offices through the state was reduced.  However, in practice it was determined that real market value does have a large effect on taxable assessed values, particularly now that the market has declined and many property owners now pay tax based on their real market value rather than their maximum assessed value.  In addition, many new structures were not placed on the tax rolls due to either no permit issued or permits that were never received by the Assessor.

During 2006 and 2007, Columbia County converted to a new assessment and taxation system capable of 'recalculation', which maintains real market value more accurately each year than just a market trend adjustment.  In order to take full advantage of the program, detailed inventory data must be entered for each property.  Since it had been at least 15 years since one of the six maintenance areas in the county had been physically inspected, we have developed a limited (curbside) inspection process to begin capturing the inventory and noticable changes to properties in order to complete one maintenance area each year with limited staffing and resources.  Advanced notice is not given prior to inspection, however, for properties with major changes, appraisers will attempt to contact the owner and/or complete a full exterior inspection.

Recalculation requires an annual setup of land values, local cost factors and depreciation schedule for each area that has sufficient data entered in the system.  Values are then electronically recalculated using the new factors without a physical inspection.  These setups are completed using sales data prior to the assessment date of January 1, so an additional market trend study is done later to further adjust the recalculated value based on the actual market.  Areas that are not yet able to be recalculated have only a market trend study completed to adjust the previous year value to the current year.

Since our conversion, we have completed limited physical inspections and reappraisals on residential properties in the areas listed below.  All these areas are now recalculated annually.

  • 2008 - City of Vernonia
  • 2009 - Cities of Saint Helens and Columbia City
  • 2010 - Rural Vernonia
  • 2011 - City and Rural Rainier
  • 2012 - City and Rural Clatskanie; all Personal Property Manufactured Homes Countywide
  • 2013 - Rural Saint Helens, Warren and Deer island; all Floating Property Countywide
  • 2014 - City and Rural Scappoose
  • 2015 - Commercial Property Countywide

The following reappraisals are scheduled for future years:

  • 2016 - Industrial Property and Floating Property Countywide; Columbia City Residential Property
  • 2017 - City of Saint Helens Residential Property

Our plan is to reappraise properties in each area with limited inspections once every seven years in order to continue placing non-permitted structures on the tax roll and removing demolished structures, as well as to adjust properties due to better or worse condition than the previous cycle year.  Areas that are not being reappraised will continue to be recalculated.



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Frequently Asked Questions

How does the market value given on the property tax statement compare with what the property would actually sell for?
Oregon Revised Statute (ORS) 308.232 requires the assessor to appraise each piece of property at 100 percent of the real market value as of the assessment date (January 1 preceding mailing the tax statement). However, with over 28,000 accounts it would be impossible to accurately appraise each property every year. Typically, an appraised value can be five percent high or low and still be considered accurate. While our values are as accurate as possible and should provide some indication of what your property would sell for, a better indicator would be to hire an independent fee appraiser.

I'm thinking of improving my driveway and I have been told that concrete will increase my property taxes more than if I use asphalt. Is that true?
Yes. Studies show that not only does concrete cost more it adds more value to the property. However, if all you are doing is improving your driveway that may not increase your assessed value. Any new construction that adds a total value to the market value of your property of less than $10,000 in any one year or no more that $25,000 over five years can not be used to increase your maximum assessed value.  Your taxable value is the lesser of real market value or maximum assessed value.

I built a new home last year but when I received my tax statement there was no value added for the new home. Should I call the assessor's office or just keep quiet?
You should definitely call the assessor's office. While there may be a good reason why you are not being taxed on the new home, if it was a mistake, regardless of whose mistake it was, when it is eventually discovered, the assessor can go back six years to correct the mistake and collect back taxes for each of those years. It is better to pay the correct amount each year than to pay six years worth of taxes all at one time.

What would the reason be that the new home was not taxed?
It is all a matter of timing. When you get the tax statement in October, the value is based on the previous January 1. If you did not start the new home until February, 2011 you would not pay taxes on it until you got your tax statement in October, 2012.

I am thinking of adding a bedroom and bathroom to my house. How much will this raise my taxes?
A variety of factors come into play and because of the complexities of Oregon's property tax system, there is no short answer to your question. An appraiser that has been registered with the State of Oregon will visit your property and a determination of the additional market value will be calculated. This additional value will be computed based on proven and accepted professional mass appraisal methods. After the market value of your addition has been measured, your tax liability will be determined according to Oregon State Statutes.

Am I paying taxes on the road (or street) in front of my property?
If your property fronts a county road, county "public way", city street (whether the city is incorporated or not) or subdivision street and the road or street is actually used as a public right of way the answer is NO.
If your property fronts a "private drive" that is used by several property owners or an unincorporated city street that is not used as a street, then the area of property that you own within the road or street would be taxable to you.

Will I be notified before a county property appraiser comes to inspect my property to schedule an appointment?  No, we do not have the staffing resources to set appointments.  During reappraisal, each team of two appraisers may inspect and appraise an average of 80 properties per week.  If they determine that they need to talk to the owner for more information, they will leave a door hanger on the front door requesting contact.

Must I allow a physical inspection by a county property appraiser?
No, if you ask the appraiser to leave, he or she will leave the boundaries of your property.  However, any changes to your property will need to be estimated from the public roadway or from information provided on permits or other means such as aerial photos in order to meet our legal requirement to appraise all properties at 100% real market value.

I posted a ‘No Trespassing’ sign.  Will that prevent an appraiser from entering my property?  No, if the appraiser is completing a reappraisal and no changes are visible, he or she may enter as far as the front door to see if anyone is home.  If there is no answer, a door hanger may be left asking you to call.  If changes to the property are visible, we will measure and inspect the new improvements in order to meet our legal requirement to appraise all property at 100% real market value.