REAL ESTATE FOCUS-Protesting property taxes takes preparation

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JERRY ENGLER
Are you planning to protest your county property taxes?

If you get a hearing at the time of spring tax valuations instead of waiting for payment times in May and December, you might save money.

Marion County Appraiser Cindy Magill said you would be taking advantage of the requirements for a property tax hearing at three times a year if you can ask for one.

The first half of taxes is due May 20, while the second half is due Dec. 20. To have a tax hearing at either of those times, Magill said you must pay the taxes due first under protest.

She said you will lose the potential use of that money until the hearing is completed. If there is a decision in your favor, you will have to wait on the county to issue a check to have anything refunded because you will have paid already.

You won’t have long to wait before asking for a spring hearing.

Normally Magill is required to have valuations in the mail March 1, but this year, because she didn’t get valuations on agricultural lands from the state in time, she has asked the state for an extension to March 15. Under such circumstances, she expected no difficulty in being granted the extension.

Now don’t read this article and decide to come in for a hearing just to see if you can realize a savings. Magill said under such circumstances you probably won’t accomplish anything except to waste everybody’s time.

The more documentation you have, just as the appraiser’s office has to have documentation to determine taxes for you, the greater the likelihood you will have of a legitimate case that could lower your taxes.

To have a favorable hearing, “document why we are not right,” Magill said.

She identified several factors home owners may consider.

“If your home has structural problems we couldn’t see, bring us inspection papers. Bring us paperwork if you have mold in the basement, documentation on anything we couldn’t see that could bring down the value of your home.

“Estimates from contractors on what it would take to fix the house up if it’s in poor condition can be very helpful.

“Maybe our data shows you in a five-bedroom house, and it’s a three-bedroom house.

“If you’ve had an independent appraisal on the house, we will look at it.

“We have to value homes based on actual market sales, match their values. Just as the market does, we have to look at location, location, location. Yes, a home in Pilsen has a different value than one in Hillsboro.

“We have to stay within at least 10 percent of real value. The state comes in at least quarterly to check our valuations and actual sales. If we’re too far off, they can call for a county revaluation.

“We have brochures in our office for anyone who thinks they might want an appeal hearing. When we have a hearing scheduled, we will mail out a packet to the person.”

Magill said the main two times people protest county taxes are when the mill levy takes a sudden rise, as it did two years in the 8 to 10 mills range, or when the money actually owed seems high to a tax payer.

Spring hearings totaled 166 in 2004, 149 in 2005 and 246 in 2006, Magill said. She said these are more likely to reflect dissatisfaction with mill levy.

Payment under protest hearings, when taxpayers had to pay first before the hearing, totaled 94 in 2004, 117 in 2005 and 99 in 2006, she said. She said these are more likely to reflect money issues.

Magill said dissatisfaction and tempers can rise high when the problem is an increase in mill levy.

“But I have no control over taxes other than valuating the real estate for taxation,” she said. “It’s not my responsibility. It’s the county commission’s or other governing bodies.”

Magill has three major classes of real estate to preside over, residential-mostly what was referred to above-commercial and agricultural.

She said she does the valuations on residences on farms, but the state sets the valuations for farm land. The state valuations for farm land take into account everything from soil type to kinds of crops grown. Magill said she will try to help farmers understand why values might be changed on their land, but that’s all she can probably do if the land is classified correctly.

Typical questions from farmers occur in situations like changing a bromegrass planting to a crop. That normally raises the value of the land, she said.

Another farm complaint occurs when, say, an 80 is valued higher than a neighbor’s 80 acres. The state may have differences in soil type or fertility recorded to determine values, she said.

Her department also could make posting errors, she said.

Magill said commercial valuation can become among the more difficult to do because of lack of comparables for the company or its equipment.

Factors such as square feet, whether it’s heated or finished, income generated, comparables in other counties, and consultations with owners can be used, she said.

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