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Property tax reassessment fallout: Appeals swamp office


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Roy Donnell doesn’t agree that a home he owns on Wallace Avenue has gone up in value 10 percent since last tax year, so he has appealed to reduce the $79,400 value placed on it by the Bartholomew County assessor.

Now, Donnell waits.

He filed a formal appeal more than three months ago but hasn’t gotten a hearing from Assessor Lew Wilson. The delay has occurred because the assessor’s office has been swamped with roughly 2,100 property appeals this year, about four times the typical number.

The slew of taxpayer protests has bubbled up in the wake of a statewide reassessment of property values, the first comprehensive recalculation in the value of homes, buildings and land in Indiana since 2002.

Closer look at tax bill

Here’s a sample of how much a typical homeowner with a $100,000 property will pay in property taxes this year compared to the 2011-2012 tax cycle.

Area: City of Columbus

Gross assessed value: $100,000

Standard deduction: -$45,000

Homestead supplemental: -$19,250

Mortgage deduction: -$3,000

Net assessed value: $32,750 (tax rate applied to this figure divided by 100)

Tax rate: 2011-2012, $2.5708

Last year’s bill: $841.94

Tax rate: 2012-2013, $2.6007

This year’s bill: $851.73

How to pay tax bills

  • Mail payment to Bartholomew County Treasurer’s Office, Box 1986, Columbus, IN 47201. Payment must be postmarked by the May 10 due date.
  • Or, go to the 24-hour drop box on the Third Street side of the Governmental Office Building, 440 Third St. Envelopes will be provided. Taxpayers must include a copy of their tax statement.
  • Pay in person. Go to the county treasurer’s office during office hours, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday.
  • Starting Monday, Centra Credit Union, First Financial Bank, German American Bank, Jackson County Bank, MainSource Bank and Salin Bank will process payments. Taxpayers must bring their tax statement.
  • Instructions to pay by credit card are on the back of the tax statement. Credit card companies will assess a fee, however.
  • A 5 percent penalty will apply to late payments up to 30 days overdue. After June 9, a 10 percent penalty takes effect.
  • Other questions? Go to www.bartholomew.in.gov or call the treasurer’s office at 812-379-1530.

“We have 1,600-plus appeals that we haven’t settled yet,” Wilson said last week, adding that it has taken about three months to work through roughly 500 cases. The assessor estimated it will be August before most of the rest are completed.

Now, time is running out to get other appeals wrapped up before tax bills reach mailboxes of the county’s property owners this week. Bills from the Bartholomew County Treasurer’s Office were expected to start going into the mail Monday.

Donnell doesn’t mind waiting for a ruling on his appeal, but the fact that tax bills are on the way means he’ll have to pay more in taxes based on the higher assessed value, at least for now.

Property owners must pay taxes in two installments — the first half by May 10 and the other portion in November. If Donnell eventually wins a lower property value, his second-half tax bill will be adjusted downward.

But if he loses, Donnell said he’ll be forced to pass the extra costs on to a tenant who has rented the Wallace Avenue home from him for two decades.

“I hate to do it because he’s a good tenant. His check usually arrives a few days before the first of the month,” Donnell said.

Appeals vary as rates rise

Homeowners have all sorts of reasons for filing property tax appeals. Some point to a lower recent appraisal done for a bank or mortgage company’s loan department when they refinanced mortgage debt.

Others cite recent, lower sales prices in their neighborhood on similar homes as proof the assessor’s calculations may be too high.

And still others point to a perceived decline in their neighborhood or nearby structures they consider to be eyesores. That’s basically Donnell’s argument.

“If I stand in the backyard, there’s a house next door boarded up and falling down, and they want to raise my taxes?” he asked. “With that house being boarded up right across the alley, how’s my value worth 10 percent more?”

This year, the stakes for property owners are seemingly higher because tax rates also have gone up in nearly two-thirds of Bartholomew County’s 24 taxing units, in most cases by amounts ranging from 0.2 percent to 1.4 percent.

That alone tends to add more dollars to homeowners’ tax bills, depending on their assessments and which deductions they can take based on such things as the standard homestead deduction (worth $45,000), veterans disability benefits or a senior citizen discount for people over 65 with adjusted gross incomes of less than $25,000.

Wilson said the reassessment of property, in general, saw land values in Bartholomew County rise more than the value of homes or other buildings.

“You’d expect land values to go up over 10 years since the last general reassessment,” the assessor said.

Wilson said home values were a mixed bag, and a lot had to do with the age of homes, depreciation and whether any additions or improvements were made.

One size does not fit all

Also, in recent years, the assessor’s office has done some reassessments on an “as-needed basis,” Wilson said. “We have annual trending done each year, and if any changes in values are warranted, those changes are applied to the structures.”

Bartholomew County Auditor Barbara Hackman said that work may have contributed to net assessments of all property in Bartholomew County (real property, personal, business and utilities) actually going down by 1.59 percent compared to a year earlier.

Still, some homeowners can expect to pay more in taxes than they did last year. In property appraisals and tax rates, one size doesn’t fit all.

Tax rates are made based on local government spending requests and their individual budgets. Rates vary based on whether someone lives in the city or outside it and based on which fire department zone, school district or library district a homeowner falls within.

Some tax rates dipped.

The biggest decline came in Columbus Township, where the tax rate this year declined to $1.7533 from $1.9267 a year earlier. Columbus Township refers to the land that is within township borders but not in the city limits. The city limits do go beyond the Columbus Township borders, and those areas have their own city tax annex rates.

Hackman said the intricacies of the vast reassessment of property caused some delays. Both the auditor’s office and assessor also switched software vendors, and some kinks had to be worked out in those new products to properly compile and calculate property records and tax bills.

But she said the county is on track to mail all the tax bills by the state’s Thursday deadline.

Questions anticipated

“When the tax bills are mailed, we get very busy on the phone with questions galore from people about which deductions they might qualify for,” Hackman said. If a factual error is discovered, the county can issue a new tax bill.

Another problem that might crop up for a few hundred property owners will be when they learn they’ve been purged from the rolls of homes eligible for the standard homestead deduction. Basically, they’ll lose a $45,000 discount they had been getting off a home’s assessed value.

About 700 affected property owners are those who didn’t return a pink verification card that was included with a mailing from the county tax office. The auditor’s office purged names of people who didn’t respond a month ago.

People who didn’t return the card are assumed to be ineligible for the homestead tax break.

But anyone among the 700 who still want to dispute being purged from the rolls can bring in proof of home ownership to the county auditor and have the homestead credit restored for this year.

A state homeowner is allowed to claim the homestead deduction only on their principal residence, and the verification system was put in place statewide to stop people from claiming the savings in multiple counties or on more than one home.

Some homeowners remain confused by the complex tax process.

Roger and Priscilla Day, who own a home in the 2500 block of California Street, saw the assessed value of their property rise 12 percent over the level that had been in place for the previous three years.

“I got the notice in early December, and I filed an appeal on December 11 last year,” Roger Day said.

“I was just attempting to find out why my assessment went up. How in the world am I going to prove it wrong if I don’t know what goes into it?”

Day, who has been a homeowner for 40 years, hasn’t begun to gather evidence to counter the assessor’s valuation.

“This is the first time I’ve looked into this in such detail. I probably wouldn’t have appealed if I could just get an explanation of why this is happening,” Day said. “I work and pay taxes, but 12 percent seems a little steep of an increase to me.”

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