County asks woman to repay $355,000 after appraisal mistake

EVERETT, Wash. -- A Snohomish County woman is being asked to repay the county hundreds of thousands of dollars after they over-appraised her land. But she says she shouldn't be on the hook for the county's blunder.

Kay Kohler's grandfather bought the property in 1936 as part of his family farm. But now this inheritance has become heartache.

In 2007, Snohomish County told Kohler they wanted some of the property for a road improvement project. The county paid Kohler $400,000 for a portion of her old family farm after an appraisal by three experts. But now the county says the land was overvalued and has since been reappraised for about $50,000.

Why the drastic difference? The county says this property is a wetland.

"I know we didn't have a wetlands because ground water was at 60 feet," she said.

The county is now trying to force Kohler to pay back $355,000 plus interest.

"No matter if you're a property owner or just a taxpayer and you're paying into the coffers of (Snohomish County), this is just incredibly reckless handling of public funds," said Nicholas Power, Kohler's current attorney.

The public works director told KOMO News he made several attempts to negotiate a settlement with Kohler and her former attorney but got no response. He says Kohler should not be paid more than what the property is worth.

But Kohler says she shouldn't have to pay for the county's mistake.

"To have the memories of the family farm and you don't feel like giving that all up for nothing," she said.

According to Bronlea Mishler, a spokeswoman for Public Works, the $404,000 was provided to Kohler's former attorney, Doug Purcell, to be held in a trust in good faith during a 5-year court process while attorneys for both parties presented evidence so a judge could determine the fair market value of the land. Mishler said the county never formally paid Kohler.

Under state law, Kohler is required to pay the county $355,000, which is the remaining amount over the fair market value for the land.

The county says the money given to Kohler should have been placed in a trust until the final payment was made. However, Kohler's former attorney says that's not true and argues it was Kohler's money.