Homeowners upset over reappraisals

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Now that tax notices have been mailed, some Lincoln Countyhomeowners are shocked and confused to see their propertyreappraised at higher values while the nationwide housing marketcontinues to suffer and devalue.

But there’s a simple explanation why local values – and propertytaxes – are defying national trends and going up.

“It’s because of our sales,” said Lincoln County TaxCollector/Assessor Nancy Jordan. “Lincoln County was not hit ashard as other places. I don’t do nationwide; I do countywide. Mycountywide values are based on sales that we have on record.”

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Jordan said local property values are based on the local housingmarket, a still-thriving market in 2008 – when the four-yearreappraisals were conducted – that saw 185 property sales. Localappraisal rates are still less than they could be, hovering at97.55 percent of true market value, she said.

County land rolls released in July showed the true value of allcounty property had increased from slightly more than $1 billion to$1.5 billion in 2008, taking the true value assessment to $140million, over the $126 million figure used in 2007. Jordan said theaverage value countywide increased by about 10 percent.

But counteracting the property value increase was a loss toother county funds. Jordan reiterated the county lost around $14million from car tag sales as motorists, pinched by the nationaleconomy, kept or traded down to less expensive vehicles, and stategovernment devalued agricultural use land.

County supervisors were able to maintain the same $15.2 millionbudget for the new fiscal year by leaving millage rates alone -which, coupled with increased property values, caused propertytaxes to increase.

“The county had to have more money to operate on – it’s not whatsupervisors would like to do, but it’s what had to be done,” Jordansaid. “No county employees got a raise this year, and we’re notbudgeted to buy anything new for our offices unless it’s anemergency.”

Though some property owners are crying foul, the tax office’sappraisals have been checked and approved by the Mississippi StateTax Commission and the county is still appraising property atslightly less than maximum values, Jordan said.

Still, some local landowners – like Brookhaven’s Robert Morris -are arguing that Lincoln County’s appraisal methods are inaccurate.In a letter to the editor printed in The DAILY LEADER on Sunday,Dec. 20, Morris revealed the assessment on his own property onKraner Lane increased by more than $21,000, or 15 percent. The jumpin appraised value resulted in a 32.3 percent increase in hisproperty taxes.

The problem is, Morris wrote, that national housing markets aresuffering and property values have fallen considerably, notincreased. He referenced the National Association of Realtors,which showed the average price of existing homes fell by almost 10percent in 2008, while new home prices dropped 6.4 percent thatsame year.

The tax office’s appraisals were conducted in 2008, during theheight of possibly America’s worst recession.

“My local tax bill completely refutes this data!” Morriswrote.

Morris acknowledged in his letter that Mississippi and the Southin general have not felt the more severe punishment dealt to otherparts of the country in the recession. Jordan pointed to just thatfact to explain why Lincoln County values have increased.

“When you learn how to do an appraisal, the first thing theyteach you is location, location, location,” she said.

Tax assessor Leon Perry pointed out county property owners couldbe paying more in property taxes, but Lincoln County is holdingback with its 97.55 percent market value appraisals.

“If we’d been at 100 percent market to start with, there couldhave been a decrease,” he said.

The real estate market in Lincoln County has not slowed down anddevalued like in other parts of the nation, Perry added. He said125 new houses were built in the county during 2008.

“We’re running deeds this thick every two weeks,” Perry said,holding his finger and thumb apart three inches. “To me, the markethere is doing well.”