Ford County assessor: Re-assessments more 'equitable'

ROBERTS — Larry David was surprised, to say the least, when he was notified last month that the small home in the village of Roberts that he bought 11 years earlier for $12,500 had jumped in assessed value all the way up to $33,510.

Until that time, the house at 208 W. Green St. had seen gradual, but only modest, increases in its assessed value each year, as assigned by the Ford County Supervisor of Assessments Office.

So he could not believe it when he read the letter that he got in the mail from Supervisor of Assessments Patricia Langland, informing him that his home’s assessed value was now 2 1/2 times what he paid for it.

“It’s still the same house,” David said. “There are no new additions, no new garages. ... I did have to put new windows in.”

David started doing some research, discovering in the process that his property was not the only one to see its assessed value changed significantly. Some had their values raised, while others saw theirs decline with no seemingly logical explanation.

“There are a whole bunch of them that don’t make a bit of sense,” David said. “One lady bought a place over here for $8,000, and magically, within less than a year, it’s a $76,000 home. And when you see it, you’d think, ‘No, the $8,000 was a good price to get for it, ya know?’”

Meanwhile, another Roberts resident, David said, paid $47,500 for a house just a couple of years ago, and the property’s value is “now down to where it’s maybe only $2,000  more in value than mine.”

“I’d love to sell this one by what they say it’s worth and buy that one for what they say it’s worth,” David said.

Retired from a career as a traffic signal technician for the Indiana State Highway Commission and now on a fixed disability income, the 64-year-old David is growing concerned about how he will be able to pay his property taxes next summer. His taxes last year totaled about $200, he estimated, but he expects his next tax bill “to make a hell of a jump.”

But he is less concerned about his own situation as he is about how higher property taxes could impact the entire community.

“This area here is going to fold up and blow away,” David said. “Younger adults, they generally don’t stick around here, and when the cost of living goes up, they get out.

“And my children, when I pass away and these kids of mine end up with this place, they’re just going to have to do like the people down there on the corner — they sold their mother’s house for $15,500, while it was assessed at $41,000.”

David and another Roberts resident expressed their frustrations to the Ford County Board during its meeting earlier this month. He also spoke with the supervisor of assessments about his concerns and, as of last week, was among an estimated dozen residents living in the northern part of Ford County to file paperwork with the supervisor of assessments to appeal their property’s re-assessment.

The Ford County Board of Review — whose members include Chairman Ron Bork of Piper City, Mike Griffin of Paxton and Bob Link of Gibson City — will hear each complaint individually at a date to be determined in February, Langland said. In order to file an appeal, residents have until Jan. 31 to pick up and return the “non-farm property assessment complaint” form at Langland’s office at the courthouse in Paxton.

“Once we find out how many (complaints) we have to work with, then we will get together (with the board of review) and decide how many days we’re going to need and what we’re going to do with them,” Langland said.

Anyone who contests their assessment — whether it is successfully appealed or not — will have their assessment frozen for four years, Langland noted.

Langland said that last fall, she and the multi-township assessors re-assessed 1,300 properties in eight towns in Ford County, including Roberts, Melvin, Piper City, Elliott, Sibley, Kempton and Cabery. Not re-assessed were properties in Paxton and Gibson City, although Langland said both of those towns will be re-assessed within the next year or two.

The re-assessment of the properties in northern Ford County was done in order to make the assessments in those towns more “equitable,” Langland said. It was determined that the eight towns’ assessments were “out of balance” based on a standard set by the state called the “coefficient of dispersion,” Langland said. The complicated mathematical formula showed that many properties in towns like Roberts were either assessed “too high or too low,” Langland said.

“Some people are way overpaying on taxes, and some people are not paying their fair share,” Langland said. “So, in order to change this, we had to do a reassessment.”

Instead of re-assessing the properties based on recent trends in home sales, Langland and the multi-township assessors based the new values on “equity,” Langland said. Langland said there were not even 25 homes sold in the northern part of Ford County in the past year, so basing values off of the market in that area would not be practical, or even accurate.

So instead, Langland and the multi-township assessors categorized each property in each town based on their age, style and condition. First, all residential properties in a single town were categorized by age (1900-1949, 1950-1980 and 1989-present day). From there, they then were categorized by style (ranch-style, two-story or 1 1/2-story). Finally, they were rated on their condition, with Langland and the assessors visiting each town to inspect each home’s condition first-hand.

The result was nine categories of properties, Langland said. A median assessed value was then assigned to each category, Langland said, and that number was then used to determine the cost per square foot to assign to each category for each town.

The cost per square foot “varied from one town to the next,” Langland said. “So there wasn’t one number we just threw at everybody. ... I didn’t think it was fair to just throw one number at them. So we had a whole variety of numbers depending on where they lived.”

In the end, Langland said she accomplished what she set out to do: make the values more equitable. Now, Langland said, the cost per square foot will be the same for each property in a category in a given town.

“I was concerned because we had some people paying as little as $2 a square foot and some people paying as high as $36,” Langland said. That’s kind of a big spread.

“I feel it is (more fair this way). And I have explained it to the mayor of Piper City. He was at the meeting the other day, and he understood. He understood exactly what I had done, and he wasn’t opposed to it at all. It’s something that just needed to be done, and once the first part of it’s over, it will be OK. I mean, right now it’s just a surprise to everybody.”

Properties in Paxton will be re-assessed this year, followed by those in Gibson City next year, Langland said. However, Langland said she expects to be able to re-assess those properties based on sales in those towns, since there are usually enough each year to provide reliable data.

“Like I said, they’re not out of balance (in Paxton and Gibson City), so it’s not going to be a big problem,” Langland said. “I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of shifting around and all that stuff within the community. I’ve got sales to work with here (in Paxton), and I’ve got sales to work with in Gibson City, so I can easily balance things out by just taking the sales and figuring out the nine different (categories) for the town.”

“So when I re-assess Paxton coming up and when I re-assess Gibson City coming up, it’s going to be a whole different thing than what I had to do up there (in the northern part of the county).”

Langland said she hopes residents can understand why she used the method she did to complete the re-assessment in the northern area of the county. She admitted that it can seem complicated, but she said the result is fair.

“Somebody who’s gotten $2 a square foot for a long time has gotten a real break on his taxes compared to somebody who paid $36,” Langland said. “So I understand their stress because all of a sudden they’re going to be paying what everybody else is. I’ve had people call me who were on the high end, saying, ‘Thank god somebody finally noticed.’

“The guys on the low end that are being raised, they’re the only ones that are complaining. The other ones are thanking me for doing it. So you’ve got 50 percent that says, ‘Hey, thanks,’ and you’ve got 50 percent that says, ‘Oh, I hate this.’ And that’s OK. That’s OK.”

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