CHARLESTON - Homeowners in Mississippi County should brace themselves for an increase in their property tax bill.
Assessment notices for county residents should have started arriving in mailboxes Monday, according to Mississippi County Assessor W.R. "Bill" Thompson.
Property values have increased an average of 10-15 percent since the last re-
assessment two years ago, according to the assessor's news release issued Thursday at the County Commission meeting. The countywide average increase on residential property in 2003 was less than 3 percent and was only 5 percent in 2001, according to Thompson, and there was no increase in 1999. He noted residential property values in neighboring counties are going up this year as well.
"Higher assessments reflect higher prices for houses," Thompson said. "As an example, I know of one that sold for $130,000 last year, was purchased for $70,000 just 10 years ago. It's a blessing if you are selling, but a curse when it comes to paying taxes." He noted state law bases assessments on the market value of property.
Recent residential sales studies of Mississippi County by the State Tax Commission indicate the county's homes should have increased in value by as much as 30 percent, according to Thompson.
"The housing in Mississippi County is definitely undervalued," Thompson said. "The residential (assessing) in my office has certainly been conservative and has not seen an increase since 1999."
Thompson said agricultural and commercial real estate values are about right, according to STC studies.
Studies by the STC require local assessors to make valuation increases or face financial penalties to local school districts, according to Thompson. He cited as an example how Fredericktown schools lost $475,000 when the Madison County assessor refused to make a valuation increase and the STC responded by ordering a 25-percent increase of all property in the county and hiring outside appraisers to review the county this year.
Under state law, higher assessments are not supposed to translate to higher taxes when bills go out this fall. According to Thompson, taxing jurisdictions are supposed to roll back rates so the taxing entity does not receive any more money except from the value of new construction and a cost-of-living adjustments.
Thompson said things don't always work out that way because a homeowner whose assessed value increases by a greater percentage than the taxing jurisdiction as a whole or is in a school district at the minimum rate can still expect to see higher taxes. "It's getting to the point that retired people can't afford homes," Thompson said. "Thank goodness for the Circuit Breaker - the hardest part is paying the bill before you can apply for the refund."
Assessments are not necessarily the last word, however, as property owners can appeal to the Board of Equalization or request an informal hearing with the county assessor in his office. All hearings must conclude by May 30 so that the tax book can be prepared.
The assessor's office will consider changing an assessment only if property owners can provide documents that show the county's appraised value of the property is higher than its market value. Acceptable documentation includes: a recent appraisal, a recent sales contract, insurance, or a broker's opinion of value.
Also during Thursday's County Commission meeting, commissioners reviewed a letter from Matt Sorensen, vice president of Midland GIS Solutions, to the county clerk and county assessor outlining topics discussed during a May 19 meeting with county and Midland officials.
The letter notes the ability to plot full-color tax maps using the geographic information system computer mapping program was demonstrated.
The letter also advises that any problems with the digital aerial photography are the responsibility of Walker and Associates which provided the photography; and that Midland will continue to provide toll-free technical support to Sarah Anderson who does parcel splits for the assessor's office.
"A fully functional and powerful GIS program has been developed for the county and is ready to be embraced and utilized by the county," Sorensen wrote in closing the letter.