Property owners question tax assessments

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[June 16, 2016]  LINCOLN - On Tuesday, June 14, 2016, the Logan County Board's Finance Committee held their monthly meeting. The main focus of their discussion was property taxes and assessments with several people addressing concerns about property tax increases.

Guests were Ann Curry, Brenda Short, Tina Schneider, Vicki Hasprey, Chuck and Elaine Lindstrom, Brenda Humbert, John Camel, Katherine Yaple and Amy Kuhlman.

Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Ruben began the meeting with a brief summary of the role of the Board of Review, which investigates complaints about property taxes.

Ruben said the Board of Review has an entirely new set of people. He said previously said that the State did not require counties of less than 100,000 to have people certified by taking a test and now everyone must be certified.

Ruben said those on the old Board of Review were not interested in being certified, so three new people were appointed last year. All of them have taken the test and are now certified.

Realtor Vicki Hasprey said that for many years when people asked for their property to be reviewed it was not a problem. Hasprey said, "When I asked this year to have it done, I was sent a letter of dismissal and this was on twelve different properties."

Hasprey said she was upset because she feels "everyone should have a right to go in front of the board to review their properties." She said "if they have questions on their property and how it is being done, they should be able to go in front of the board and ask." Hasprey brought up the issue at a recent finance committee meeting.

Ann Curry said that not everything comes to the Board of Review. Curry said, "When you fill out your form, Denise [Martinek] goes through it and does everything she can before it comes to the Board [of Review]."

Curry said if the form is not filled out correctly or other things are wrong with it, the complaint will not be reviewed by the board. She said Martinek can fix simple errors.

Hasprey said she would have liked a letter explaining why the properties were not being reviewed. She said, "I need to be aware of what is going on."

Ruben said he agreed that she should have been informed. He said since the assessor's office was doing quadrennial reviews, it was "taxing for the office" and "some things got dropped."

Ruben said he would talk to Martinek about having a form letter explaining why a complaint is not sent to the Board of Review.

Hasprey said several others had questions they wanted to address, too.

Realtor Tina Schneider said many in the community are upset about "huge increases" in some property taxes. Schneider wanted to know how property taxes are being assessed.

Schneider said years ago, "I was told a home was assessed based on square foot," whether "exterior was brick, vinyl, or wood;" whether there were "attached decks, detached garages, or attached garages, plus "frontage" and "concrete."

Schneider asked if the way the homes were recently reassessed was based on the same factors.

Ruben said, "As far as I know. I am not in that office on a day to day basis."

Schneider said a couple people have come to her and said they were told their assessed value is based on the their house's sale price.

Ruben said the sales price is one factor in the assessment.

Committee member Gene Rohlfs said properties are taxed at "33 1/3 percent of the property's fair market value."

Schneider said with four homes in the same area, one had taxes that were extremely high and the others barely went up and wanted to know how the board can justify that.

Ruben said the assessor's office is in charge of that and may make mistakes when there are "42,000 parcel numbers."

Ruben said the assessor's office has to go through a review by the State to see if their assessments are close. The State may raise the assessed value if they think it is not high enough.

Ruben said the State thought the assessor's office did a good job this year because their assessments were close to the State assessments.

Ruben said part of Martinek's job is to look at property taxes, make determinations of whether they are wrong. He said "If they're wrong, I'm sure she would be glad to correct them. All it requires is a trip to her office."

Hasprey and Schneider both said it can be hard to get "real" answers from the office and they have had members of the public express that complaint, too. Schneider said she would like help from the committee so all can "feel like we have been treated fairly."

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Schneider said when she compared homes similarly priced in the same location with almost the same square footage, she found "$3,700 to $6,200" differences in the price of a home. She is worried about the rates.

Others then expressed their concerns as well.

Longtime Lincoln resident Chuck Lindstrom said, "I got thrown out of the office." Lindstrom said he has lived in Lincoln since 1961 and never had a complaint about taxes previously.

Lindstrom said when he and his wife looked at a house at Lincoln Lakes, he asked about the tax bill and found it high. Lindstrom said this year the tax bill is "four times higher" than when he bought the house.

Lindstrom said he is not so concerned about the dollar amount, but asked the assessor about taxes so much higher than they were originally. Lindstrom said Martinek told him, "this is the way it is." He feels like he is "in a battle."

Lindstrom said dues to high taxes, he is also having trouble selling a property on Tremont Street.

Ruben said Lindstrom should get an appraised value of his property to "prove the value of the property." He said if the appraisal is less, the taxes can be decreased.

Lindstrom asked how a 96 percent tax increase could be justified.

Ruben said every piece of property in the county was reappraised in the quadrennial review. He said the property may have been underassessed before.

Lincoln resident John Camel said he wants a "level answer" about the "58 percent" increase in his property taxes. Camel said the assessor's office gave him a form to fill out for going before the Board of Review.

Camel said the form was hard to understand and he may have not filled it out correctly. When he did not hear anything from them, he stopped by the assessor's office again.

Camel said he gave the office his phone numbers and still did not hear anything from them. He said, "I went back up there again" and this time was referred to Denise Martinek.

Camel said Martinek told him exactly what he paid for his house. He said, "I was not there to argue or challenge her. I just wanted to learn," but Martinek told him, "you are just done."

Camel was frustrated at the way the issue was handled and wants to know why some homes assess higher.

Ruben said the multiplier showed assessments were done correctly. He said some changes are due to mistakes in the office in previous years.

Brenda Short asked how closely the forms are reviewed and whether the office could do a quick scan when they are turned in to make sure everything is filled out.

Committee member Rick Aylesworth asked what percentage of forms were filled out incorrectly and got bounced out.

Curry said it was a high number. She said if you do not fill out the part asking what you think the property is worth, it can get dismissed.

Ruben said the letters of dismissal may need a little more explanation of why the complaint is being dismissed, but there were a lot this year.

Ruben said the assessor's office also has problems when people buying a house were told the taxes last year were a certain amount and the amount is a lot higher when they get this year's taxes. He said the amount may have been frozen previously.

Schneider said realtors try to disclose such factors. She said many do not understand how the tax base works.

Ruben and some of the guests plan to meet with Martinek to ask about some of the issues discussed at the meeting.

The next finance committee meeting will be held Tuesday, July 12 at 5:30 p.m.

[Angela Reiners]

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