April 20, 2016

Property assessments draw crowd to city tax meeting

By Annette Tait
Seeing the benefits of tax dollars at work was the farthest thing from people’s minds during the recent City of Center tax equalization meeting.
As required by state law, County Tax Director Teri Schulte provided a report of city properties appraised to date, and noted changes related to the overall reappraisal. The reappraisal was completed in order to comply with state requirements that property valuations be within 90 to 100 percent of market value.
The average increase for city properties was about 26 percent overall, with a wide variation in the changes in valuations. Large changes in property values and concerns about related tax assessments drew nearly two-dozen people to the meeting.
Shulte introduced Ryan Ehli, regional field specialist for Vanguard Appraisals, Inc., the firm hired for the reappraisal, who explained the process.
Data on properties and structures was gathered in the first phase, and the data was entered into a computer program used by Vanguard’s reviewer to set the final value in the second phase of the reappraisal.
“They’re sitting in front of the house when they set the values – they’re not doing it from a satellite image or remote site,” Ehli said, noting that Vanguard’s work included ensuring the description on record matched the property, the correct parcel(s) were listed, and other details were consistent with records. “It’s a cleanup process, making sure that changes made over the years to subdivisions and individual lots are up to date.”
Regular reappraisals are needed to make sure property valuations are accurate, so that the tax burden is shared equitably.
“Across-the-board increases are not fair, which is probably how it was done in the past,” Ehli said, explaining why a full reappraisal was needed.  “Over time, the inequities continue to grow. There wasn’t a mechanism to fairly assess properties.”
Ehli also explained that not every parcel was affected in the same way.
“Some may have gone up in value, some may have gone down,” he said, relating the increase or decrease was tied to the property’s former value. Ehli also stated that the former property value wasn’t taken into account during the assessment, so as not to bias the data gatherer.
“An older smaller house may have been severely under-assessed through across-the-board [percentage] increases,” Ehli said. “This assessment brought the property to a fair market value.”
He also explained that property taxes are determined based on the number of mills needed for local governments – in Center residents’ cases, the city and the county.

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