BOISE -- When Randy Turner found out his one-bedroom cabin near Pine, Idaho survived the Elk Complex Fire, he chalked it up to divine intervention.
We don't know why God does these things, I look at it that way, Turner told KTVB's Andrea Lutz on a dusty road near Anderson Dam last August.
Turner had discovered that his cabin had escaped destruction after watching aerial video on KTVB. The flyover showed one green spot and intact cabin among smoldering pines.
More than 48 similar properties weren't so lucky.
Now, five months later, Turner is faced with a new question that can't be answered from above: why the value of that property is set to increase, despite the lingering effects of the fire.
VALUE INCREASES DESPITE FIRE
Turner says the Elmore County Assessor's office recently sent him a letter stating the taxable value of his property was set to increase by 10 percent for the year 2014.
That should have been status quo, according to Turner, whose cabin's value was supposed to increase because the building had recently been finished, and during the construction process had been taxed at a decreased value of $125,211.
However, that was before the Elk Complex Fire destroyed homes and property surrounding it.
He says the latest update from Elmore County indicates his land and improvements will now be valued at approximately $137,000 - despite the damaging effects of the massive wildfire on everything around it.
Now, there's nothing but a field of stumps around my cabin, Turner said.
Turner says his taxes were $1,430 in 2013. He's assuming that if his home is now worth 10 percent more, he'll pay a few hundred dollars more if the tax rates stay the same.
It just doesn't seem right to me, Turner said, adding I think it should be reassessed.
ELMORE COUNTY RESPONDS
Elmore County Tax Assessor Ron Fisher says it's not easy to reassess the value of property and homes in the wake of a natural disaster.
Idaho code requires that we assess to recent sales, Fisher told KTVB. We can't just immediately, arbitrarily assign a value.
There is one important exception: Fisher says property owners whose homes burned in the fire certainly won't pay taxes on the improved property after it was destroyed.
However, Fisher says the value of land and other improvements that weren't destroyed in the fire will remain the same for now. That's because the value of land and homes are determined by appraisal methods combined with fair market rates.
Translation: Fisher says a number of homes and property near the burned Fall Creek area will now have to be sold before new appraisals can be done fairly in the wake of the fire.
Until there are approximately five sales, we do not know what that market value is, Fisher told KTVB, adding It gives us a fair ratio study of market price.
Fisher says while several properties have sold in the Fall Creek area since the fire, not all are damaged, or include damage to surrounding land.
So, when will Elmore County have enough data to reassess the value?
Fisher says the property and land that sells in the Fall Creek area throughout spring and summer of 2014 will help assessors reach new assessed values for 2015.
A COMPLICATED ANSWER
However, the answer is perhaps more complicated than that.
Rick Anderson is a tax policy specialist at the Idaho Tax Commission. He says elected tax assessors like Fisher have the power to determine property values at any time.
He would have the power to reappraise as of January 1st, Anderson told KTVB. It's his prerogative.
If I were the assessor, I would appreciate him [Turner] asking for it, Anderson continued. If a person believes it has affected his market value, he should do that. At the same time, I feel like the person should be prepared to say why he feels that way.
Fisher ultimately agrees.
If they don't agree on that, they can call us up and inquire, he told KTVB, adding that he'd be willing to personally meet and discuss property values with any taxpayer in the county.
If they still don't agree, they can appeal to the Elmore County Board of Equalizations, he said.
Anderson says those who feel like they still don't have a fair rate can take the matter to the State Board of Tax Appeals for a redress of grievances.
As for homeowner Randy Turner, the question of increased taxes on his property is likely to add insult to injury.
He says what was once a mature forest with hundred-foot trees is now reduced to a field of stumps. Logging trucks now buzz back and forth on area roads hauling out the remains.
Turner says that while his cabin is now valued more than before the fire struck, the chances of selling it are slim indeed.
I don't think anybody is going to pay me $125,000 on a cabin in the middle of a burnt forest, Turner said.