Written by Aleen Ratzlaff Tuesday, 10 August 2010 15:47
When it comes to paying taxes, property owners expect to be treated fairly.
“Most people want pay their fair share—no more,” said Marion County Appraiser Cindy Magill.
And that’s the expectation Magill and her staff are committed to meet when determining the value of commercial and personal property on which property taxes are based.
“The main goal of this office is to achieve fairness and equity (among) all taxpayers,” said Magill, who was re-appointed last year to a second four-year term by the county commissioners.
Most duties in the county appraiser’s office are bound by Kansas statutes.
“We can’t look out for one taxpayer,” she said. “When I make my decisions here, I’m taking into consideration the whole—everybody. Because what I do for one, I should have to do for the others. If I can’t do for the others, than I shouldn’t do for the one just because they’ve requested it.”
Those duties, Magill said, involve arriving at fair market value in a mass-appraisal setting of all real property in the county and personal property. The state of Kansas, however, sets values for agricultural land.
“We just update our tables and notify the farmers then of their new ag values on their farm ground,” she said.
The county appraiser’s office follows an annual cycle with deadlines established by the state.
The office determines the value of a property as of Jan. 1, and then notifies property owners of their valuations in March.
“Property owners have 30 days from the date the notice is sent out to appeal their evaluation,” Magill said.
Property owners can schedule a hearing at the appraiser’s office if they disagree with the valuation of the property.
“The appraisal office has until mid-May to get the hearings completed and the decisions out to the property owners from those hearings,” she said.
State law requires Magill to submit the valuations by June 15 to the county clerk because school districts, counties and municipalities set their budgets in August that determine the mill level, which decides the tax amount to be paid.
About 12,000 properties, including commercial and personal, are listed in Marion County.
“Basically every year we have to reappraise,” Magill said. “We don’t have to physically inspect every property every year, but every year we have to reappraise. We only have to physically inspect 17 percent of the county a year. So therefore, after six years, the county has totally been re-inspected.”
Valuations of properties that are physically inspected are based on what the property looks like on the outside, she said, unless staff is invited in by the property owner.
Assessed property values for Marion County residents are computer generated.
“We have several values to pick from and we try to be as conservative as possible, but we also have to be within those sales because that’s how the state measures us,” Magill said.
Larger counties, such as Sedgwick and Johnson, have enough real estate sales that they look at those from the immediate previous year.
“We’re in a county that is small enough that we have to look at the three previous years in (selling) activity,” she said. “We don’t just have the luxury of looking at the previous year because we don’t have enough sales to do an analysis on them. But we’ll take into consideration information the property owner brings in.”
Some property owners may have misconceptions about the appraisal process.
“A lot of people think that people tell us how much money we need and then we go out there to get the value for that money, but that’s not the case,” Magill said. “We value first and then go through a hearing process.”
Also, the appraiser’s office does not determine the taxes owed.
“I have no authority over taxes,” she said. “If (property owners) feel the value we have placed on their home is not what they could sell it for if they tried to sell it, then they can schedule a hearing with us. And we look at the information they bring in, relook at how we valued it, because we have a small window of time between typically December through February to set the values for 12,000 parcels.”
Also, the value placed on property is not what people pay taxes on.
“They only pay taxes on it based on their classification,” she said, adding that all are set by statute.
Personal pays 11.5 percent and commercial pays 25 percent of the value. Farmland is 30 percent of the use value, which is set by the state. Farm buildings are 25 percent while vacant land is at 12 percent.
Magill started working in the appraisal field in 1982 after learning of an opening in the Sedgwick County appraiser’s office. She interviewed for the job and was hired.
“So that started my career in this field,” she said. “Being a single parent, I felt security because it was not a private-sector job. There’s always going to be taxes. People are always going to have to pay taxes, whether they like it or not. That’s just a fact of life. So I felt job security in that raising my son…and I loved what I was doing.”
To get into the governmental field, someone would have to hire into a position in a county appraiser’s office. The state then provides the training and classes through the property valuation division, part of the Department of Revenue.
“That’s how I got my training,” said Magill, who has achieved a registered mass appraiser designation. “You have to have five years of experience in the appraisal field before you get your RMA. You have to be designated or licensed to be in this position.”
Magill worked in Sedgwick, Johnson and Butler counties before coming to Marion. She was appointed in 2005 and reappointed last July for another four years.
“It’s a little bit different environment coming to a rural county versus the urban counties that I’ve worked in,” she said. “But we still have to do the same thing.”
The urban counties have an advantage because of their population when it comes to mill levy increases.
“They can spread that out to more people than what the smaller counties can,” she said.
Taxes on a $75,000 home in Marion County are going to be higher than what people pay on taxes in Sedgwick County, she said, adding some people think the tradeoff is worth it because of the quality of life in a smaller community.
Magill’s father was a Marine for 20 years, she said, so her family traveled a lot. Her parents, sister and brother-in-law and son, Derek, live in Wichita.
“I love helping the people,” Magill said about her job. “I guess I love the math—the working with numbers. I think that’s what draws me to it. My son excels in math as well. Maybe it was hereditary.”
Magill emphasizes the importance of being aware of the appraisal process. Property owners have only one appeal right per year, she said, adding they have two times that it can be exercised, but they can only do one.
“If they get their notice in March, and appeal then, they get their results,” Magill said. “Then they have to appeal to the next level. But if they appeal in March and don’t do anything, and try to submit a payment under protest in December, they can’t because they’ve already exercised their right.
“So if they appeal in spring, they can’t do a payment under protest. If they don’t appeal in spring, they can do a payment under protest.”
Magill encourages property owners to contact her office about their valuations and how they are determined.
“A lot of times people come in just because the value went up and they don’t think it’s right,” she said. “I have documentation to support why the value went up.”
In turn, she recommends that property owners bring in documentation to support why they think that value is inaccurate—not just that it went up.
Documentation could include pictures, a recent fee appraisal by an independent appraiser and other sales they feel are more comparable than the sales that were pulled through the analysis process.
A public access terminal is available in the appraiser’s office as well as the sales notebooks that have been run during the time allotted for hearings. It reopens in December for when there’s payment under protest.
“If they understand that there is a method to how values are arrived at, I feel like I’ve done my job,” Magill said. “They may not like how it’s done or the results, but I feel that if I can let them know how it’s done, then they’ve walked out of here with a little better understanding of the responsibilities of this office.”