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Hundreds upset over property assessments

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Jim Nowacki stands in the creek bottom of his Greenwood tree farm Nov. 20. Nowacki appealed the value of his two-acre tree farm after the value jumped from $3,100 to $26,700 when the county deemed the land was residential.
Jim Nowacki stands in the creek bottom of his Greenwood tree farm Nov. 20. Nowacki appealed the value of his two-acre tree farm after the value jumped from $3,100 to $26,700 when the county deemed the land was residential. PHOTO BY SCOTT ROBERSON

More than 1,300 property owners questioned or disputed the new value the county decided their home, land or building was worth.

Last week, the county sent out notices showing property owners how the value of their property changed in a countywide reassessment, and the phone calls questioning the changes began.

About half of property values went up. Most of the rest went down.

Jim Nowacki’s two-acre tree farm in Greenwood was one of the properties whose values went up. Way up. The value on the land, which is in a floodplain, went from $3,100 to $26,700; and that means a much higher tax bill starting next year. Property values are the basis for property tax bills.

How to appeal

What: Property owners have 45 days after receiving notice of their updated assessment to appeal that value. The deadline to appeal and have any changes made for 2013 tax bills is Dec. 27.

How: Call the county assessor’s office at 346-4701. Visit the assessor’s office in the courthouse annex building, 86 W. Court St., Franklin. Mail your appeal to 86 W. Court St., Franklin, IN 46131, and make sure to include your name, address of the property, parcel number, your address and phone number.

When: County officials likely won’t be able to get into details of the appeals until after Jan. 1, which still will allow enough time to make changes before the tax bills are sent in the spring.

What to expect: During your initial call or visit, a county assessor’s office employee will ask what question or concern you have, your parcel number and how to reach you.

About the reassessment

Updating values: All counties across the state are updating the value of all properties, based on state calculations of the cost to rebuild and the age of the property and sales of similar properties. The most recent statewide reassessment was in 2002, and it resulted in backlash from taxpayers, especially homeowners of older homes who saw big increases.

What it means: Property assessed values are used to calculate property tax bills. If the value increases, the tax bill

could, too.

What happened: An assessment of the new values showed nearly all had changed in value. For most properties, except farmland, about half went up, and most of the remainder went down in value.

Nowacki appealed and won, with the county lowering the value to $2,640.

He is one of about 1,300 property owners who have contacted the county since learning the value of their property changed in this year’s reassessment, Assessor Mark Alexander said.

The county is required to update the values of every property across the county, starting with new base amounts the state set to replace everything from the brick exterior to the basement. The county also updated the values for land, which is bringing in the most questions, Alexander said.

And while the notice sent to about 58,000 property owners shows both the current and new values, any difference was not a main consideration when the county did the reassessment, Alexander said.

The county is accepting appeals of the values until Dec. 27, with the hope of making any changes well before property tax bills are prepared and sent in the spring, Alexander said. Property owners still can appeal after that date, but any changes likely wouldn’t be made before next year’s tax bills.

“We will try to make it as user friendly and painless for the taxpayer as we can. What we really are asking for is their understanding and patience,” Alexander said.

“To do a complete review, that does require time. It’s unavoidable.”

Alexander said not everyone will see a change in their values, and some decided to drop their appeal after getting an explanation from his office on why the property value changed.

But more than half of property owners who have called or visited the county office have decided to appeal the new value, which he expected.

Alexander estimated 2 to 3 percent of property owners, or as many as 1,700, would appeal. He set up four phone lines specifically for those calls, and employees are calling and emailing people as quickly as they can in the order the appeals were received.

But most property owners likely shouldn’t expect to get into details with an assessor’s office employee until after Jan. 1, which still will allow time to get any changes made in time for the tax bills that will be sent in April, Alexander said.

The top question has been about changes in land values, he said.

The county has updated land values yearly when changing the values of properties to reflect recent sales, a requirement put in place by the state in 2007. But, the reassessment, which requires all property values to be updated, is the first one since the county took over for township assessors, whose positions were eliminated in a landslide vote in 2009.

Before, township assessors had their own methods for deciding how much land was worth. Now, the county uses the same method for all properties, Alexander said.

That doesn’t mean all values changed. But, in some cases, the county began measuring those values in a different way.

For example, in Pleasant and Franklin townships, the value of land surrounding homes typically was based on how much land was along a road. If a piece of land was along a larger section of road, that often meant that land had a higher value. But the county decided not to use that measurement for homes, since that is typically more important to businesses that want to be able to be seen by motorists, Alexander said.

Instead, the county is looking at the size of the lot, since that is what home buyers are most interested in, he said.

How much the land is worth varies widely, based on how much land is selling for in an area and the values of nearby homes, Alexander said.

Another change has been in what is considered farmland under state rules. In order for a property to be considered farmland, the owner has to have documentation that shows the property is used for farming, he said.

That was what changed the value of Nowacki’s land. Under the state rules, his land could not be considered farmland, but he could show it was undeveloped since it is in a floodplain and cannot be built on, Alexander said.

That lowered the value of the property, meaning Nowacki wouldn’t face a significant hike in his tax bill, though he may still see an increase, he said.

Alexander’s recommendation to property owners is to call and ask questions if they aren’t convinced the new value is correct.

“This is a change for everyone, including the assessor’s office, and mistakes can be made,” he said. “Other people take heart, there may also be some mistakes.”

Alexander wants to hear from people who have concerns or questions about the new value.

They may not like the answer since the point of a reassessment is to update property values, meaning there will be changes. And the top question the county will ask property owners to consider is whether the new value is in line with what they believe their home, land or building would sell for, he said.

But he doesn’t want them to miss the deadline and their chance to try to get the value changed before it impacts 2013 tax bills.

“Don’t let it spoil your holiday, just reserve your rights (to appeal) by calling or coming in,” Alexander said.

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