County assessor answers property tax questions
November 4, 2013
Douglas County Assessor Doug Sonnemann participated Wednesday in a question-and-answer forum online on The Record-Courier's daily Running Commentary. Here are excerpts of the forum:
What does the assessor do?
The assessor is in charge of the assessor's office which values property for tax purposes. Property includes homes, commercial, industrial, land, aircraft and business assets, but not inventory among other items.
How often are properties assessed?
We reappraise all property every year. This has been a big help as values went down in our difficult economy to reflect the lower values that had occurred. We can't exceed market values and we don't want to have property overvalued.
Are assessed values going up?
Values have gone down the last few years. This year starting with the values for July 1, 2014, we are seeing an increase due to the improving market conditions. It looks like values will be up in the neighborhood of 5 to 10 percent in the assessment notices we will send out the first of December.
There are properties in Douglas County that are more difficult to assess than others. What are some of the things you look at when assessing a property?
You're absolutely right, some are very difficult. We try to find market sales that are as similar as possible to make value comparisons and make any necessary value adjustments. An example is making adjustments for flood-prone areas or those areas that have had some of the recent fire damage. Different areas may have different effects. Remote areas can be difficult as there are not a lot of sales to establish market values.
Right now, homes built before 2005 are subject to a 3 percent increase in value each year until their actual value and their assessed value match. How much abatement is still in the market?
At the peak Douglas County had over $40,000,000 of abatement that gave property owners tax relief. In the current year, 2013-14, it is around $10,000,000. The 3 percent cap applies to those homes that are owner-occupied or low cost rentals. All other properties are subject to a formula that has a maximum cap of 8 percent. The cap for all other properties in 2013-14 is 4.2 percent.
How are appraisals done by the assessor's office different from ones done for real estate transactions?
We use a combination of market value for land with replacement cost for the improvements (buildings). Appraisals for real estate transactions are more focused on market sales comparisons. When the market was hot, we were significantly undervalued due to the cost tables we are required to use. When the market went down we, had to apply factors to reduce the improvement costs to reflect the lower market values. We will still have a 5 percent cost reduction for 2014-15, so we don't exceed current market values.
If I disagree with the value the assessor has placed on my property, what's the procedure to appeal that?
The Legislature put an excellent appeal process in place. Those property owners that diagree with their value should call our office to discuss their property and find out how it was determined. If they still disagree with the value they can file a petition with this office on or before Jan. 15 of each year. The County Board of Equalization will hear those petitions in mid February. The county board is comprised of five members of the community who are independent of the assessor's office which allows them to render objective and fair decisions.
Any public officials interested in participating in a similar online forum can contact The Record-Courier at firstname.lastname@example.org.