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Delayed home assessments to save county money

By Alex Bridges -- abridges@nvdaily.com

A "stagnant" housing market prompted Shenandoah County leaders to delay the next time the locality determines home values.

The Board of Supervisors earlier this week adopted a draft ordinance establishing a 6-year cycle by deferring reassessment by two years. Assessments instead of taking effect Jan. 1, 2014, would take effect the following year under the proposal.

The government saves $400,000 in the coming fiscal year by putting off the real estate reassessment process, according to County Administrator Douglas Walker. But the official noted the county would spend the amount later when it proceeds with the reassessment.

"But the board was pretty understanding in that it defers this cost to some future time; it doesn't just eliminate it," Walker said. "The conversation was about how to defer that cost to the future because, in their opinion, it wasn't timely to do a reassessment because the real estate market being relatively stable they haven't experienced a lot of change."

Some other localities in the region are looking at the same option and could defer reassessments, according to Walker.

Virginia code allows localities flexibility in how often they can conduct reassessments. Municipalities may reassess property values from every year to as long as six years. Shenandoah County has availed itself of that flexibility and supervisors changed the schedule on occasion from four years to five to six.

"I know for the recent past we have been on a 4-year cycle and that's not atypical for counties like Shenandoah that don't experience a lot of growth and change over time," Walker noted.

The administrator's fiscal 2013 budget as proposed included $400,000 for the first year of a two-year reassessment that fell within a 4-year cycle, according to Walker. In the next fiscal year Walker noted by the end of that time two-thirds of the work on the reassessment would be complete.

But supervisors, in their budget discussions this spring, cited the county had seen little change in property values, Walker recalled. The instability of the real estate market largely spurred the supervisors' interest in deferring the reassessment, according to Walker.

The county eventually would spend the allocated money to conduct and complete the reassessment. As Walker explained, supervisors on Tuesday discussed the length of time they wanted to defer the process. Supervisors had the choice to defer reassessment by one or two years, for either a five or a six-year cycle.

By staying on a longer cycle, Walker noted the county likely would continue its practice of contracting an outside firm to conduct the reassessments. Localities such as Frederick County have opted to bring the process in-house and have given the responsibility to real estate assessors and the Commissioner of the Revnue's office. Walker explained that staff calculations show the county would not save money by conducting the reassessments in-house unless they do so on a more frequent basis than an even four-year cycle.

"If you do it more frequently, like one year or two years, then obviously then you're keeping your staff more efficiently deployed in the field and doing the reassessments," Walker said.

But Shenandoah County did find a way to save money by working with Clarke, Warren, Page and Rappahannock counties to conduct a regional procurement for reassessment services. That reassessment recently concluded and Shenandoah County is not negotiating for those services at this because of the supervisors' decision to defer the process, according to Walker.

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